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11th Sailing

Sails is a section of troutswirl that is devoted to presenting questions for discussion and debate on the nature and possibilities of haiku. Sails is overseen by Peter Yovu. For an introduction to this section, see Sails.

. . . 11th Sailing . . .

BY Peter Yovu
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Could I Ask You a Question Without Words?

Don’t be fooled: this Sailing is not, as promised, devoted to one-line haiku. We’ll get to that, but for now it seems that poor Viral 6.5 has taken on more than it bargained for, and so we have come in relief.

Can we bring the conversation about image-based and word-based haiku here? This includes the exploration of “the wordless poem”, and fingers with or without jewels. So how best to frame this, to bring it together in a way that picks up what has been scattered elsewhere and take it forward? Maybe we can start with something Michael Dylan Welch said:

“In a haiku, do the words point to the image, or to the author? A “word-based” poem tends to point to the author, I’d say, whereas an “image-based” poem tends to point to the image or experience, with the words becoming as transparent (or “wordless”) as possible”.

Michael will correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t believe he is saying “image-based: good; word-based: bad”, or: “image-based: genuine; word-based: false”. He may have, as you or I may have, a preference, but that’s a different matter. I like that he speaks of tendencies: we can work with that.

So, like those layered acetate sheets that illustrate one portion of the human anatomy at a time, I’ll set down several questions. (And please improve upon any as needed or wished).

First, do you find this distinction between image-based and word-based haiku useful?

Do you have a preference, and why?

Can you give/show us a haiku which for you exemplifies “the wordless poem” as you understand it.

Can you show us a “word-based” haiku which in your opinion “works”, despite the fact or because of the fact that the words point to the author? And, does a “word-based” haiku necessarily point to the author? Can you find one which doesn’t?

There are other questions which come up, but perhaps we have enough here to go on. I do want to encourage you to throw out some haiku for us to chew on. They help anchor the conversation, and this one may prove slippery, because when we are in the neighborhood of the “wordless poem” we tend to bump into paradox at every turn. But that, for many, may prompt the “argument with ourselves” that gives birth to haiku.

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Sails

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This Post Has 152 Comments

  1. Michael, isn’t writing in lower case an attempt at being humble?

    The problem that I have about lower case, is for me, it draws me
    to the lower case, which I do not believe that is what it is
    supposed to do.

  2. I’d just like to second Jack Galmitz’s favourable comments on Adam Traynor’s lone(ly) haiku. It really does stand out – it has wonderful freshness to it. (And I could imagine reading it in an issue of Roadrunner.)

    Thanks for sharing your haiku Adam!

  3. “For me, these haiku are consistent with haiku as
    “a timeless moment in a moment in time,”
    (my phrasing).”

    I agree with Adelaide !

  4. Regardomg Allan’s post of haiku which use phrases such as “all day, all night, all winter,” etc.

    The observation the poet makes that something has occured consistently throughout this time period must be made at the end of the time period in question. The observation is made at a particular time, not continously throughout the day or throughout the winter. For me, these haiku are consistent with haiku as “a timeless moment in a moment in time,” (my phrasing).

    Adelaide

  5. Extremely interesting discussion about ‘a wordless poem’

    a himalayan eagle
    rises from the treetop
    a wordless poem

    A poem I wrote a year back, never submitted it anywhere, because I felt it was ‘wrong’ to tell . . . 🙂
    This is from an incident when we visited Shimla – high up in the Himalayan mountain range. These eagles are massive birds, most majestic.

    Thank you for your time,
    _kala

  6. I see, Gabi. I read the Narrow Road, but didn’t remeber Matsushima ya. Now, I’ve looked it up and this adds allusion and yet another interpretation to your haiku on wordless poem.
    For those unacquainted with the story, Basho, faced with the beauty of Matsushima, could not find words for it and so wrote:
    Matsushima ya
    Matsushima ya
    Matsushima ya

    and that’s it,folks. no more words.

  7. Adam, you’re more than a beginner. With such poetic expertise I have no doubt that you will not ever have to contend. You are a natural, a real poet, and I hope to see more and more of your genius as the years go by.
    I’m getting old and it would delight me to no end to see you pushing the envelope of haiku till I die. I have that much confidence in you.

  8. Thank you Gabi for receiving my appreciation of you; it wouldn’t be complete would it unless this had happened.
    And, I look very much forward to your arrow shot right to my heart-I know it won’t hurt me.
    Jack

  9. Wow! thanks for your praise of my lone(ly) poem, Jack.
    I do hope to be able to contend here, without being contentious if possible.

  10. Allan,
    I’m aware of such examples (and have written some myself) but thought I’d wait till someone brought it up. Since these examples are few and far between (what would you estimate, less than 1% of haiku?) I could simply concede it as the exception to the rule, and leave it at that. But I personally see even these examples as present-tense *moments of awareness* recorded no differently then perceptions of shorter moments in time.

  11. I think I did her wrong: I think the artice “a” appears before each use of the word “word” in the original. Can’t trust my memory any longer.

  12. Finally, there is another poem by Dr. Gabi Greve that I can’t locate, but which I think I can duplicate without fault. At least, I hope so.

    wordless poem?
    yes, wordless poem,
    wordless poem

    How deft and brilliant. The cutting is created by the question and response, nothing unusual in that, but unusual enough in ELH, which often relies on dashes, ellipsis, etc for cutting.
    And, another way of cutting used here is the question and response form, uniquely used here.
    I admire the use of a questioning stance in the first line, and the affirmation of the second and third lines, another unusual and excellent way to juxtapose.
    But, what I really like is that Dr. Greve delights in paradox once again. At first reading, it would seem a merely humorous commentary on the idea of an impossibility, a wordless poem (really?), because the second and third lines are intentionally repetitive and verbiose (for such a short poem) and suggest that a wordless poem is impossible, there’s nothing in answer but words,words,words, and this completely disavows the legitimacy, even the credibility, of such a thing.
    But, then on a second read, we have the possibility of another reading-it reads, the whole poem,like recitative Buddhist practice, chanting over and over the same words until the worshipper eventually loses all sense of words and enters a space where words have lost their meaning and there you would have it-the place/existence of a wordless poem.
    The poem is multilayered and fun and serious and I’m sure there are more interpretations that you can think of as you ponder the poem.

  13. Then, there’s a poem by Adam Traynor, who is new to haiku and who had the courage to post on this most contentious site.
    But, it is not for his bravery that I extol him, it is for what appears to be his first published haiku.

    the long a of gray
    the long a of rain
    the shortest day

    I mean here is a poem! I find the juxtaposition between the first two lines and the last brilliant and by verbal virtuosity he sort of collapses our accepted notion of the shortest day-the winter solstice.
    He uses language based poetry exceedingly well in pointing out the length of the “a” sound in “gray” and the long “a” in “rain,” but this does not distract from the “facts” of gray and rain but actually more pointedly presents them: the neverendingness of gray and rain on a winter day. Word-based, maybe? but in such an astute way that the actual experience of the signified thing is enhanced rather than lost in the reflexivity of self-referential language.
    And there is an oppening of the things themselves in the opennness of these Long Open Vowels. This is also true of the opening of the sound “y” in gray and there is a natural stop after the consonant rain at the end of the second line.
    How blithely he turns “the shortest day” into something long is achieved by the final openness of the long “y” sound as the last word. It goes on forever, but not as a duldrum, but as an acceptance of joy in what rain, gray, and day bring. And, there is even a rhyme in gray and day that is not forced and through this rhyme he accomodates and joins the two verses.
    A truly excellent poem.

  14. Without belaboring the point further that no one here has been so far able to come up with a universally-accepted distinguishing mark of modern haiku other than brevity (which of course does not really distinguish it from other similarly brief verse), I would like to note that this quoted “winter” verse by Jim Kacian,

    all winter long
    smoke on the horizon
    in the same place
    (Presents of Mind)

    is very reminiscent of Shiki’s “spring” verse,

    One whole day,
    Tilling the field
    In the same place.

    It is interesting that both of these verses would still technically qualify as hokku, even though Kacian does not use the standard English language hokku capitalization and punctuation.

    If all of “modern haiku” were like that Kacian verse, hokku and modern haiku would have a great deal more in common at present than they do.

  15. Before the moment slips away, I feel I have to extol a few pieces posted that were left seemingly unnoticed.

    a wordless haiku . . .
    I use my third eye
    to read it
    (Dr. Gabi Greve)

    This poem is as excellent as Dr. Greve herself. She mentioned elsewhere that she mastered Zen archery and now practices archery in a forest without a bow, having refined herself to such a degree through her practice with an actual bow. And, in her poems she shows a mastery of words that she has earned through many years of devotion to the art of haiku.

    The poem, I take it, is simultaneously witty, humorous, and also quite serious. The first impression is one of seeming denial; a wordless poem is as real as the third eye is real. But, then, there’s a second look by the reader. Wait a minute. The third eye is a spiritual term that is not to be understood as existing in the body (although some beliefs hold that it is the peneal (sp?) gland that is opened through spiritual practices), but is more generally understood to mean that one who has opened their third eye is someone who has refined themselves through spiritual practice and has spiritual sight.
    So, the poem can be understood in two ways simultaneously-something that Dr. Greve appreciates about paradox generally. It is both a spoof and a serious vision at once!
    I find it enchanting and brilliant and in few words expresses what we have all be trying to do with much verbiage.
    Let me see if I can find the other two poems I thought notable.

  16. Chris,

    I think “moment-in-time” is a haiku norm but not a universal. Consider haiku like these, which concern periods of time much longer than a moment:

    deep winter . . .
    all day long the mountainside
    in shadow
    (John Wills, Mountain)

    winter moon
    taking all night to cross
    so small a pond
    (Ken Hurm, Frogpond 12.1, 1989)

    And I’ve pointed out before that Jim Kacian, in particular, has written quite a number along these lines, such as:

    all winter long
    smoke on the horizon
    in the same place
    (Presents of Mind)

    So, we’ve got “all day”, “all night”, and “all winter” rather than just discrete moments. Here’s one by Jim that avoids using “all”:

    the day
    of the inchworm
    a yardstick long
    (Six Directions)

    I certainly consider all these poems to be haiku, and there are many other examples. It’s very hard to set down “universals” in a definition that don’t wall out (to allude back to Frost) some good work. But I certainly don’t deny that depiction of “the moment” is *typical* in haiku.

  17. I’m curious why no one mentioned ‘moment-in-time’ as the most easily identifiable characteristic of haiku after poetry and brevity. (Not even Michael’s definition includes it).

    In 2000 Modern Haiku contacted eleven authorities for definitions of what they considered to be ideal English-language haiku. Most of the definitions included the moment-in-time characteristic:

    “…an instant in time…” Lee Gurga
    “…a pure moment…” George Swede

    A. C. Missias later published an analysis of these definitions in Frogpond. She listed moment-in-time as the fourth most mentioned characteristic, after poetry, brevity, and insight/intuition (followed by 9 other traits) and I can only assume it wasn’t mentioned in all the definitions because they had to be 25 words or less, though I’m also curious why it isn’t mentioned in the HSA definition. Unless I’m missing something.

    Definitions aside, one would be hard pressed to go through any journal and find even an exception that proves the rule.

  18. Regarding these poems:

    red flipped out
    chicken lung
    in a cold white sink

    the chain saw stops;
    deeper in the winter woods
    a chickadee calls

    I consider both of these to be image-based. They point overwhelmingly (if not entirely) to something that you can sense with the five senses (“image” doesn’t mean just visual). Compare them with the following poem, which I consider to be word-based, by Paul Muldoon (from his book Hay):

    A bullfrog sumo
    stares into his bowl of wine.
    Those years in Suma.

    Bullfrogs aren’t sumo wrestlers, so the first line immediately launches into metaphor — thus making the poem seem clearly to be word-based. No such explicit metaphors appear in the Virgil and Spiess haiku. And look at the second line: Does a bullfrog really have a bowl of its own wine? Well, obviously not, so this is again metaphorical or conceptual, veering away from image-based haiku.

    Now consider this Paul Muldoon poem, also from Hay, that is closer to being image based:

    I’ve upset the pail
    in which my daughter had kept
    her five—“No, six”—snails.

    At first, this may seem to be a word-based haiku. Why? Saying “I have upset” rather than “upsetting” or “I upset” puts the poem in past tense or makes it an explanation, both of which veer away from image-based haiku. The middle line is an explanation too, but then the poem is beautifully interrupted by the “No, six” comment that is very much in the here and now (the quotation marks *make* this poem). The quoted comment seems obviously to be from the daughter, and because that is in the here and now, the rest of the poem is justified for being in past tense.

    I like this poem very much, but would not hold it up as being the best model for haiku, chiefly because it lacks a two-part juxtaposition. I find the rhyme a bit distracting, too. I recall that all of Muldoon’s Hopewell Haiku (in Hay) have a rhyme or slant rhyme that, to me, shows how well crafted it is rather than trying to be invisible so we can see or feel the images as directly as possible. These rhymes are jewels on the finger. Nice jewels, don’t get me wrong, but they’re not the moon that a traditional haiku would point at.

    Now consider this poem by Muldoon, from *Sixty Instant Messages*:

    Hamilton. Tweeds? Tux?
    Baloney? Abalone?
    Flux, Tom. Constant flux.

    Pure word-based poetry. What small hint of image-moment remains in the poem is so slight as to hardly count. This poem exists purely as words and concepts.

    I agree with Peter that a “wordless” haiku “acknowledges that a poem requires words (a body) but does not seek to amplify or draw attention to them.” Muldoon’s poems (on the fringe of haiku at most) draw too much attention to their crafting and to their words or concepts themselves to strike me as being what I encourage others to emulate as haiku. It is generous of Lee Gurga to defend the poems as “word-based” as opposed to “image-based,” and it’s worth noting how English-language haiku is predominantly image-based (for better or worse), but I find word-based haiku to be less deeply satisfying than the best image-based haiku, which have the power of transcendence and wholeness that, to quote Emily Dickinson, blows the top of my head off.

    Michael

  19. red flipped out
    chicken lung_
    in a cold white sink

    the chain saw stops;
    deeper in the winter woods
    a chickadee calls

    I’d bet that if each of us following this forum were to give a definition/description of a “wordless poem” and a “word-based poem”, we’d get a wide variety of views. Though as ideas they are probably not as far apart as they at first seem, still, they may function as “poles” or synapses across which a great deal of electricity may jump.

    So I’ll present one way of looking at this, which is the way I happen to find attractive, not necessarily adhering to Watts’ or anyone else’s take. In this view, I see “wordless poem” representing a “transcendent impulse”. It acknowledges that a poem requires words (a body) but does not seek to amplify or draw attention to them. Rather, it sees the body as a vehicle somehow necessary to bring one to a wondrous place, at which place it is no longer required, leaving only the light, or the sound of further transport.

    Though Spiess’ poem may be said to have a beautiful body—the play of vowels is delightful and somewhat more dominant than the earthy consonants, still, it seems to me to draw on this impulse to lead the reader out of itself (and him/herself) and into a far place of silence—silence being the pearl around the chickadee’s grain of sound. The chain saw here could even be seen as the mind, and one can make much of the “winter” woods.

    One way to look at “word-based” poems is to consider them as more abstract, taking words themselves to be sensualities, or objects pointing to themselves. That’s not exactly the view I’m taking here, but for me, Virgil’s poem represents an impulse toward “immanence”—its stays, happily, in its body. The words here want to enjoy themselves, and to hold on to their energy, which they will share if you love them. And even though the “subject” of the poem, and the words used to embody it, may be regarded as repulsive, still, one wants to love them, to keep them in the mouth for a while, and to feel one’s mouth as it speaks them. This poem has more bones, sinews and muscle than does Spiess’ more vowelly poem. Spiess’ is more about breath and spirit; Virgil’s about body and the senses. And as one could make much of Spiess’ “winter”, ditto for Virgil’s “cold white sink”.

    I hope it’s plain that this is not saying one is better than the other. I tend to suspect, though, that for many writers, there a is a preference for the haiku of transcendence. Whether this is preference or a belief that this is what haiku is supposed to be, I don’t know. But it is relatively rare to find such words as “lung” or “flipped out” in haiku. I love the poetry of transcendence, but as Spiess’ poem shows, it is made of words, of words beautifully orchestrated. It honors the body, and does not seem to say the body is separate from spirit. Rather, it is continuous with it.

    I also love the poetry of immanence. It more than honors the body; it loves it. It can be a jeweled finger pointing at its jewel. And a jewel is loved for the light it gathers, that falls for it, but is not bound by it. I think that’s what Virgil’s poem does, and is.

  20. “Chaos is found in greatest abundance wherever order is being sought. It always defeats order, because it is better organized.” —Ly Tin Wheedle

    “Lions, and tigers, and bears! Oh, my!”

  21. quote
    ‘Never think that I believe I should set out a “system of teaching” to help people understand the way.
    Never cherish such a thought. What I proclaim is the truth as I have discovered it and “a system of teaching” has no meaning
    because the truth can’t be cut up into pieces and arranged in a system.’
    – Diamond Sutra

    This was ment for here, sorry about the double post (but there is no facility to delete one’s post here, is there ? )

    Never think that I believe I should set out a “system of teaching” to help people understand the way of Haiku …

    . ?

  22. My John was an old time jazz professional…classic jazz…and worked with many of the old jazz professionals you all might remember.. When I started writing haiku and sending them out and getting them published, he once asked me what I thought I was doing…I told him I was joining in a session…and creating my own jazz band… He understood the analogy completely…
    In jazz you study the rules of music…and then once you understand them you start to understand where you can break and bend and bounce your sounds off them creating something memorable and fleeting and vital.

  23. Regarding my definition of haiku, it was, of course, a definition of haiku in English, not Japanese, hence the reference to three lines, and so on. I don’t believe there’s any confusion or mistakes in details, but blind biases might lead some folks to think so. I’m also describing what I think haiku should be in English, thus David’s comment about haiku that don’t have seasonal references is missing my point that I think they should do — generally (although not always). It’s not worth it to me to respond to the rest of David comments, because he has his own drum to beat, and he’s welcome to beat it.

    Michael

  24. It’s as much as where you get a piece published that determines if it is prose poetry or flash fiction. I’ve had work published in *Sentence* and *Quarter After Eight* and I consider those pieces prose poems because they are known as prose poem journals. In addition I have work published in *Quick Fiction* and *wigleaf* and I consider those pieces micro fiction again because I have to call them something. There really is no bright line and yet it is argued quite passionately by editors and practitioners alike. Last year a new anthology by Brian Clements and Jamey Dunham called “An Introduction to the Prose Poem” (Firewheel Editions) didn’t help one bit. They further dissected the prose poem sub-genre into twenty-four sub-sub genre. I say just keep writing and worry about the tags later.

  25. Hi Chris W…..well ‘prose’ covers everything from what we’re writing in these posts to Flaubert’s ‘Madame Bovary’. An earlier post by Allan Burns includes an extract from a poem by A. R. Ammons, including this bit,which might serve as well for a metaphor for the ‘prose-poetry’ field as anything else

    “by transitions the land falls from grassy dunes to creek
    to undercreek: but there are no lines, though
    change in that transition is clear
    as any sharpness … ”

    You’re right, of course: perceptions about ‘what s a sonnet?’ have changed to include newer interpretations. Similarly, the ghazal, once a strict form which required only certain subjects as well as many formal restraints has been adopted and adapted over time and via various languages.

    Here’s a web-site on the Prose Poem: (there are many more)

    http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/5787

  26. “So, here are two poems I’d like to submit for discussion. I feel they work very differently, and could be seen in the light of the subject of this S.” Peter

    Yes, they work differently. This one gives two images involving sound, in a setting/place provided by a third image,Winter forest :

    the chain saw stops;
    deeper in the winter woods
    a chickadee calls

    One finds oneself drawn into the scene, listening. None of the images draw particular attention to themselves. Simple, common language throughout, the choice of line breaks is similar to the ‘natural’ rhythms of plain English syntax as it is spoken.

    The next relies on the arrangement of line breaks to disrupt syntax and meaning …a colour, red, ‘flipped out’ is temporarily ambiguous. What has red been flipped out of? A paint can , perhaps. Or is ‘flipped out’ being used in a slang or idiomatic way, perhaps to mean, ‘gone insane’ or ‘become angry’? The verb can be either transitive or intransitive. The meaning can’t be resolved until ‘chicken lung’ L2.

    red flipped out
    chicken lung
    in a cold white sink

    ‘So much depends’ here on the manipulation of the line break to create a brief haitus in meaning.

    So, Peter, if ‘word-based’ means the author’s manipulation of words and silences to temporarily withhold meaning so that the reader’s attention is caught by the way the language is used, rather than ‘the thing’ words stand for, then this second ku is ‘word-based’, though I’d prefer to say ‘language focused’. There is a strong visual image, of course, but how this visual image is arrived at seems to take precedence.

    Given the red chicken/ lung/ white sink, I wouldn’t be surprised if the author intended an allusion, and a retort, to W.C.W’s much-anthologised ‘imagist’ free verse poem, ‘red wheelbarrow’/ ‘so much depends’.

  27. Sorry, I should’ve let Peter Yovu’s gentler posting take root here instead of adding to this already complicated debate! Please feel free to ignore my reply if you’d rather have a break from the to-and-fro. I’d be happy to see the thread move along a somewhat lighter path for a while.

  28. David Coomler has suggested the idea that English-language haiku are not haiku at all, primarily because everyone has their own opinion of what haiku really are, and thus that there is no consensus definition. Furthermore, and as a result of this, he asks how we could possibly claim to teach anyone what a haiku is. He also suggests that the only definition which could really be reached is that haiku is a “brief poem”.

    Before making my main point, I’d already want to challenge the notion that no greater consensus could be reached than that haiku is a brief poem. But that aside, I’d like to point a couple of other things out.

    Firstly, (and contra Chris Patchel’s last comment, but in no way intended as a criticism as I too thought the same of sonnet’s until recently) have a look at the following sonnets:

    http://www.onedit.net/issue4/piersh/2.html

    Line one of the first poem contains 2 syllables, with no meter to speak of. Subsequent lines don’t conform to the idea of ‘sonnet’ structure much more than that either. So what are we to make of this?

    These sonnets aren’t written by somebody who has no knowledge of the form, but by a university creative writing tutor who has seen his work published. I’m not saying that his status is a guarantee of anything, but it’s certainly evidence that his opinion is not something which can just be ignored. It has a well-informed basis.

    There are many, many more sonnets of this nature out there too. Some are just as experimental, others much less so. But all break with the rules which we would typically apply to a sonnet. If the sonnet can be developed in this way, then why can’t the haiku?

    English-language writers aren’t the first to play with haiku in ways that we are discussing here. The Japanese have been doing it themselves ever since Shiki coined the term “haiku”. In fact, if anything I think it’d be fair to say that the Japanese have done it far more extensively than we English-speakers have.

    In relation to all this I think we can pose a similar question, but one which strikes right at the heart of literature in general. It is that eternal question, which I think is generally accepted as being unanswerable: What is the difference between poetry and prose? Or simply, what is a poem?

    Look at the following:

    http://www.literateur.com/2010/03/a-visitor/

    Is it poetry or prose? It’s being called poetry on the website where it is published and I wouldn’t dispute this. But I would also say that it bears a very close relation to prose too, and I should think there are plenty of people who would call it prose rather than poetry (or a blend of the two).

    Whether or not that example stands up to scrutiny however (it was the first thing I could lay hands on), I think the point remains. We can’t really define poetry and prose separately from each other. Nor can we give a final definition of what poetry is.

    If we can’t do that, then doesn’t it follow from David’s argument that we can’t teach anyone what a poem is? It seems so. But somehow, we still manage. And I think the same can be said for haiku specifically.

    Any thoughts?

    (hopefully this won’t start a lengthy discussion of poetry as opposed to prose!)

    Best to all,

    Chris

  29. Pardons to Allan for spelling his name wrong. I thought I had the spellings for his and Alan Summers straight in my head : /

  30. The second haiku is by Robert Spiess, from his collection The Shape of Water. Together, they nicely illustrate some of the range of ELH.

    And, yes, it’s the poetry–not the polemics and pontificating–that matters.

  31. I just read the Wikipedia article on Jazz and there is a long section on the challenges of “Definition” followed by a section on the “Debates” over definitions. Obviously this is the case for all forms of art that aren’t as strictly structured as a sonnet, say (even in that case there are numerous forms and variations). So Peter’s analogy of “fields” is a good one. And I would argue the categories of “bread” and “pie” also have lots of blurring at the boundaries with other foods. I did a search of “bread pie” and “pie bread” for the heck of it and was surprised to get thousands of hits. And then there’s the crossover between bread and cake, pastry, pudding etc.

    Lots more could be said to clarify and expand on this which I don’t have the time or perseverance for, but I doubt there are too many people losing sleep over the collapse of meaning for terms like jazz or haiku, however broad the category descriptions, or how much the forms evolve over time. And I think Alice would be ok with the terms.

    (I just noticed that Alan referenced Jazz as well)

  32. I have found this discussion interesting, especially as I am pretty new to haiku or whatever. But geez, David Coomler, I think you’ve made your point, as has everyone else!

    Peter Yovu wants more contributions, so that’s my contribution for now.

  33. So, here are two poems I’d like to submit for discussion. I feel they work very differently, and could be seen in the light of the subject of this S.

    red flipped out
    chicken lung
    in a cold white sink

    Anita Virgil

    and

    the chain saw stops;
    deeper in the winter woods
    a chickadee calls

  34. My approach is descriptive, not prescriptive. I’m interested in what poets are doing, not in someone’s notion of what they “should be” doing. The challenge is to create something vital and alive right now, with whatever tools help one achieve that end.

    Haiku is an evolving and flexible genre. It has outgrown the phase when it could easily be defined–if, in fact, it ever could, and I seriously doubt that. Definitions of artforms come after the fact, as simplified models of what has been done. That’s why artists typically have little use for them. They want to create, to express their own visions, not be constrained by what has already been done and safely assimilated in a textbook manner.

    “Jazz”–that quintessential American artform–is very difficult to define, as well; I think of our English-language haiku as being “jazzy”–creative and free, informed by past traditions and accomplishments, but not bound by them. We are individuals, democratic. No one in this place and age needs or will accept a “haiku dictator.” We use what is of use to us and improvise the rest based on our creative imperatives and experience. Let the definition men keep up as best they can.

    Czeslaw Milosz once said he found English-language haiku to be the most interesting development in contemporary poetry. I couldn’t agree more.

  35. When engaged in formal correspondence, as an editor, I’ve used the term haiku as either a shortened version of “English-language haiku” or in reference to haiku written in Japanese since the time of Shiki. When teaching haiku, I enjoy pointing out that many of the people best known to us (English-language haiku readers and writers) as masters of haiku wouldn’t even recognize the term since it is only a little more than a century old. And I recognize distinctions between hokku, haiku, and what I refer to as English-language haiku – three different but historically related things. Or four things, really, because English-language hokku is a version of hokku as English-language haiku is a version of haiku.

    I was writing and publishing my poems for over thirty years before I encountered hokku (Basho, recited to me in Japanese by a Japanese friend), then English-language haiku, then haiku, and finally English-language hokku. Prior to that time I hadn’t given a single thought to haiku of any sort and had never heard of hokku. Perhaps I was too modestly involved with the rest of modern poetry – a private rather than a general – but I don’t recall hearing a word about sweeping haiku into a corner. I feel that I am better off for having encountered English-language haiku and hokku, as I’m sure are others who have come and will come this way from the ranks of modern poetry.

  36. Peter says,

    “…haiku becomes an object, a thing, rather than a “field” whose description may change somewhat as each moment’s season changes.”

    That takes us right back to what I said initially. In modern haiku, a “haiku” has become whatever anyone says it is. Each writer of modern haiku has become a Humpty-Dumpty who says, “It means whatever I want it to mean.”

    Haiku was never intended by Shiki to be a changing “field,” whatever one may mean by that deliberately nebulous term. That “haiku” has become such a catch-all expression reminds me of the teenage use of “stuff.” “You got any stuff to say?” — “You got any stuff to eat?” “I’ve got my stuff here” — “I’m busy ‘an stuff.”

    The word “haiku” as it it is currently used by its practitioners today has degenerated into a vacuous slang term with no genuine meaning and no inherent significance. The only ones who use it correctly are those who practice haiku in the tradition of Shiki, and even they all too often completely and incorrectly confuse it with what is really hokku.

    That is the long and the short of the problem. One cannot possibly teach or learn “haiku” unless one knows exactly what it is one is teaching or learning. Those who think they are doing so are just fooling themselves and others.

    And there is no point in lamenting over where modern haiku went wrong, where Higginson and his ilk set things off on their present erratic course. It is all history. It is not a subject to trouble scholars, who already know that Bashō wrote hokku and not haiku.

    The question is whether modern haiku is willing or even able to get its act together and decide whether to write in the tradition of Shiki’s haiku or whether to simply write non-descript short verses of some kind that are loosely based on the brevity of the old hokku and the later haiku — “haiku-like” verses that are not really haiku, and that really should be put in a different classification entirely, whatever that classification may come to be, if indeed modern haiku does not collapse completely under the weight of so much confusion, which at present seems quite possible given the corner into which the rest of modern poetry has not unjustly swept it.

  37. I appreciate what you say John. What comes to mind for me is: a field. A field may be “defined” by what borders it—woods, streets, river, etc., which is useful in things like map-making, or helping someone find their way in a landscape. But in another sense, any field is continuous with what borders it—only it changes, and, for practical purposes, requires a different name. So we don’t get lost.

    For practical purposes, some kind of definition may be helpful in locating ourselves on a poetic map. But as soon as definition becomes division, we enter into the condition of territory, into places that we may feel need to be defended—then haiku becomes an object, a thing, rather than a “field” whose description may change somewhat as each moment’s season changes.

    I see both impulses as valuable—the impulse to define and the impulse to describe. We’re back to paradox, I suppose. I think it is valuable that one thread among the major themes of this Sailing is personality. Though I myself do not feel a strong need to define or be defined, I recognize that for some definition is very important. I also recognize that if I am not in dialog with them, or with that undeveloped side of myself, I am divided, and will sooner or later end up defending myself, being reactive. And then I will not discover as I sometimes sense, that my “field” and your “field” are only distinctions within a larger field.

    Maybe the nub of it is that sometimes the need to define goes too far and requires something or someone to define itself *against*. And maybe adhering to “description” too much requires staying in a cloud, unformed, avoidant. I realize I’m getting into psychology here.

    But it does relate to communicating in this medium—how easy it is to get blogged down, so to speak. I realize that it is easier, for a number of reasons, for some to contribute to this forum than it is for others. I hope it can be of value to all. It is not only about analysis, but also about appreciation. I lose sight of it often enough, but I do hope this forum contributes to and supports each writing his/her truest, most surprising, most honest haiku—however you do and don’t define it.

    INFP

  38. Here is a brief sampling of dictionary definitions of “haiku.” One could identify further variations at will.

    Merrriam-Webster

    : an unrhymed verse form of Japanese origin having three lines containing usually five, seven, and five syllables respectively; also : a poem in this form usually having a seasonal reference

    Cambridge

    a short Japanese poem in 17 syllables

    American Heritage

    A Japanese lyric poem of a fixed, 17-syllable form that often simply points to a thing or pairing of things in nature that has moved the poet.

    I suspect these would satisfy few who have an interest in haiku. But these are definitions. I wonder if what we have been attempting to do here might better be termed “description,” “depiction,” or some other other term suggesting a result that is broader than “definition.”

    Just for fun, I looked up the word “definition” in the Merriam-Webster and was treated to the following variation:

    4. The state of being closely outlined or determined: “A way of liberation can have no positive definition.” (Alan W. Watts)

    ISFJ

  39. One slight correction:

    In my response to Michael’s remarks on Blyth and on the use of “hokku,” the sentence reading

    “And today things are called “haiku” that are not even remotely like anything Bashō or Issa, Buson or Gyōdai knew by the term.”

    should be corrected to:

    “And today things are called “haiku” that are not even remotely like anything Bashō or Issa, Buson or Gyōdai practiced, nor like anything Shiki intended by the term.”

  40. Michael attempts to define “haiku”:

    “Haiku is typically a three-line poem that uses concrete sensory images to convey or imply natural and human seasonal phenomena, using a two-part juxtapositional structure as well as simple and primarily objective language.”

    That is immediately confusing. A Japanese haiku — like a hokku — is typically a one-line poem. So “three lines” applies only to other languages than Japanese for the most part, and only to those writers in those languages who choose to use three rather than two lines or even one line (some Western writers use even more than three).

    Then too, there is the characteristic of “natural and human seasonal phenomena.” Countless modern haiku in English and other Western languages have no seasonal context whatsoever. Many also have no “natural” context, and do not have “Nature” as their overall focus.

    This absence of seasonal context was introduced as early as Shiki’s student Hekigodō, so it characterizes segments of the “radical” rather than conservative Japanese “haiku” movement, as does the absence of the “Nature” focus.

    What Michael is essentially defining here, therefore, is a combination of the prevalent Western three-line system of writing hokku and a content that applies to the hokku and to the conservative haiku of Shiki, but neither to radical Japanese nor to radical Western (i.e. much of “modern”) haiku.

    Michael continues:

    “Originally a Japanese genre of poetry, now written and adapted in many languages worldwide, traditional haiku in Japanese consists of seventeen sounds (not to be confused with syllables) in a pattern of 5-7-5.”

    “Traditional” haiku can only be applied correctly to the haiku begun by Shiki and continued by conservative students such as Kyōshi, the kind of haiku generally popular in Japan today (with some aesthetic variation) — and of course to others who follow in that same tradition today. It did not consist of seventeen “sounds.” It consisted of seventeen Japanese phonetic units as found in the framework of the hiragana system of writing, in which a word like “bun” is two units, and cannot be regarded as simply as “sounds.”

    5-7-5 was the accepted, theoretical standard from which variation was permitted. It was not an absolute.

    “Because of differences in language, this rhythm is generally not followed for literary haiku in most languages other than Japanese. As intuitive and emotional poems, haiku often capture a sense of wonder and wholeness in presenting existence such as it is. Rather than presenting one’s emotions, haiku present the cause of one’s emotions, thus empowering the reader to have the same intuitive reaction to an experience that the poet had.”

    One wonders what Michael means by “intuitive and emotional poems.” Particularly when many haiku (I am not speaking of hokku here) are simply illustrations, sketches of Nature, and quite without “emotion” in the usual sense of the word. He goes on to say that “haiku present the CAUSE of one’s emotions,” which directly contradicts what he said immediately before. So are they emotional poems or are they are poems that only “present the cause” of emotions?

    Aside from some obvious confusion and mistakes in details, essentially what Michael is describing here is
    the hokku and the conservative haiku as practiced by Shiki and his conservative descendants-in- practice, combined with the common English-language form used with normal capitalization and punctuation in hokku, and infrequently with normal capitalization and punctuation in haiku:

    1. Three lines
    2. A shorter and a longer segment
    3. A seasonal context
    4. A focus on Nature and humans as a part of Nature (as “seasonal phenomena” as Michael puts it).
    5. “Concrete” terms rather than abstraction and intellection.

    One can readily see that this “haiku” definition applies only to the very conservative segment of the modern Western haiku community (if one can even speak of a community among groups so diverse and contradictory) today. Much of modern haiku:

    1. Does not have Nature and humans as a part of Nature as its focus.

    2. Has no seasonal context.

    These are two essential qualities for something to really BE haiku, generally speaking. Much of what is presented as “haiku” today is simply not haiku at all. We can call such outré verses “radical” or “experimental” haiku, but the fact is they are not really haiku at all, just “haiku-like” poems.

    The reason for that is that haiku (and of course the hokku as well) was misinterpreted and misunderstood by those who created Western haiku in the latter half of the 19th century, resulting in many verses that while “inspired” by hokku or by haiku, were only “haiku-like” in some sense.

    I will leave the matter of “concrete sensory” images vs. abstraction and intellection out of this, because there is so much variation in what is termed modern haiku in this regard that applicability depends upon which writers and which verses are discussed.

    Speaking in terms of what is today called “modern haiku,” I think that Michael’s attempted definition is not only inaccurate but is also already a virtual dinosaur of nomenclature. As I said previously, what is loosely termed “haiku” has undergone such radical change and fragmentation in the past decades that a new shift in terminology is not only imminent but necessary, if one is to use language with any defining clarity at all.

    And that is all to the good. Modern haiku could really use a good reformation, a good and thorough “Rectification of Names,” as Confucius put it.

    It makes me quite happy that I am a teacher of hokku.

  41. Michael wrote:

    “When Blyth said haiku is not poetry… Blyth is simply being figurative, and I’m grateful to him for it.”

    Actually, Blyth, while saying a “haiku” is not a poem, also says a “haiku” is poetry. There is nothing figurative in the seeming contradiction. As I have already pointed out, Blyth speaks of hokku on two quite different levels throughout his writings, because it is simply not an either/or situation. Blyth did this because a hokku is neither a poem in the conventional Western sense nor is it poetry in the conventional Western sense. Blyth was the primary interpreter of hokku to the West, and he was doing his best to explain it to a culture with completely different expectations of “poems” and “poetry.” Simultaneously, Blyth was speaking on two levels because while a hokku is words on a page on one level, the poetry of hokku is beyond the words, in experience. And that is why a hokku is not a “poem.”

    Michael also says:

    “And of course Bltyh used the term “haiku” appropriately when referring to this poetry, and in naming his books (one can’t selectively decide that he got that part wrong, but other parts right).”

    It is quite obvious from the terminology used up through the first half of the 20th century in Japan that Blyth did NOT use the correct historical term. Hokku had been hokku for over well over 300 years before Shiki introduced his revisions and re-coining of the term “haiku.” Blyth simply chose to use the term popular in Japan in his day. He had his reasons.

    We see now that it was a bad choice, because not only had the haiku already earlier begun to fragment and change among Shiki’s students, but it continued to do so even more radically and confusingly when written in Western languages. And today things are called “haiku” that are not even remotely like anything Bashō or Issa, Buson or Gyōdai knew by the term.

    Michael says, “language changes,” but it does so in different ways and with different results. If it changes in a way that makes precision imprecision, lessening meaning in a word rather than gaining it, then it can be a “word illness.” Semantic broadening can happen with a positive effect, but in the case of “haiku,” semantic broadening has become semantic generalization to such an extreme extent that the word no longer accurately defines.

    The only cure for such a “word illness” is to redefine with greater precision and to provide new words for new things, if suitable words in a language do not already exist. To put it in simple terms, the extreme fragmenting and change in modern haiku has made even the term “haiku” no longer applicable to much verse written under that designation.

    There is, and has always been a suitable word for what Bashō and the others wrote — hokku, within the wider context of haikai. The word is still used in the same essential way today. So the question becomes, does one use a good and accurate term that defines well and clearly, or does one use a “blanket” term that has become so vague and amorphous in application that it has virtually lost the ability to define, if not applied to that for which it was originally intended — the verses of Shiki’s revisions and aesthetics rather than to what preceded them.

    Michael adds:

    “I am grateful that this poetry, as Henderson put it, will become what the poets make it.”

    It will indeed become whatever people make it (whether they are poets one and all is another question), but it is becoming increasingly obvious that this “poet-made” poetry will be neither hokku nor haiku in the sense in which Henderson intended it. Even some in the modern haiku community are already recognizing that “haiku” no longer defines what they write in any meaningful sense. That means another shift of terms is already in the works.

    I will deal with Michael’s haiku definition separately, given its length.

  42. ah, Mark… only *some* words, names of things (tap/ faucet, ute/ pick-up truck) and places or creatures which aren’t familiar, and local idiom. 😉 We are all speaking English, after all, and only sometimes are we ‘divided by a common language’, and rarely in poetry, that is, in the poem itself. In fact, I’ve had many haiku published in US journals and I have no trouble at all reading haiku from all of the English-speaking countries.

    What I feel that Michael is getting at by ‘natural as possible and therefore invisible’ is that the words be common, simple and immediate rather than ‘poetic’…’snake!’ in preference to serpent, ophidian or a poetic phrase or three… um… ‘that jeweled venom which beneath thy throne doth writhe,new-slip’t from Hades’ deep obsidian glade, and instantly might your quietus bring, should thou not haste your good sword to unsheath….’ ? (I made that up…a poor attempt at archaic, poetic language)

  43. Personally, I would love to have a discussion around personality and poetry/poets/haiku. I wonder how much interest there is? –Peter

    Being fascinated with the subject, I often observe and ponder the differences that an NF and SP bring to an acting role, for instance, or that of a singer-songwriter, choreographer, painter, author etc. (since I’m equally fascinated with art and artists). I’m guessing the haiku community is well represented by every personality type (whereas long-form writing tends to draw more N’s) which would make it even more fascinating. But how it would play out in a discussion forum is anyone’s guess.

  44. I didn’t bring up the Enneagram because it’s less researched or scientifically-based than M-B, but I found it to be scary accurate.

    It’s pretty clear Emily Dickenson was an INFJ, a personality type the book Type Talk describes as “An inspiration to others” and another source actually labels “Author.”

    Michael, always good to have your elucidation. The only thing you lost me on was the God riddle which to me is word-based nonsense.

  45. “And yes, of course “wordless” haiku exist. The phrase, as used by Watts and Amann, is not literal (the way haiku is not literally a mirror either), but seeks to convey an idea. I reiterate that I see “wordless” not to mean as brief as possible or necessary, but for the words to be as natural and therefore “invisible” as possible — so that readers or hearers go as directly as possible to what the words refer to and the emotions they might produce.”
    -Michael Dylan Welch

    What is natural-sounding to one person might not be for another. We weren’t born in the same neighborhoods or countries or generations. Lorin, for instance, says she’s had trouble placing her poems in U.S. journals due to her use of “foreign” words and phrases (I think it was you, Lorin, hope I’m not putting words in your mouth). Is it her duty to make her language sound natural for us, or should we attempt to come to her?

  46. ” And yes, of course “wordless” haiku exist. The phrase, as used by Watts and Amann, is not literal (the way haiku is not literally a mirror either), but seeks to convey an idea. I reiterate that I see “wordless” not to mean as brief as possible or necessary, but for the words to be as natural and therefore “invisible” as possible — so that readers or hearers go as directly as possible to what the words refer to and the emotions they might produce.” Michael

    Clears the issue up for me, Michael, especially in relation to Blyth’s use of metaphors. Thanks!

  47. Thank you so much, Michael, for that very clear explanation of “wordless”.

    By George, I think she’s got it!

  48. Here’s my definition of haiku (see http://sites.google.com/site/graceguts/essays/a-definition-of-haiku for original sources):

    Haiku is typically a three-line poem that uses concrete sensory images to convey or imply natural and human seasonal phenomena, using a two-part juxtapositional structure as well as simple and primarily objective language. Originally a Japanese genre of poetry, now written and adapted in many languages worldwide, traditional haiku in Japanese consists of seventeen sounds (not to be confused with syllables) in a pattern of 5-7-5. Because of differences in language, this rhythm is generally not followed for literary haiku in most languages other than Japanese. As intuitive and emotional poems, haiku often capture a sense of wonder and wholeness in presenting existence such as it is. Rather than presenting one’s emotions, haiku present the cause of one’s emotions, thus empowering the reader to have the same intuitive reaction to an experience that the poet had.

    Michael

  49. And yes, of course “wordless” haiku exist. The phrase, as used by Watts and Amann, is not literal (the way haiku is not literally a mirror either), but seeks to convey an idea. I reiterate that I see “wordless” not to mean as brief as possible or necessary, but for the words to be as natural and therefore “invisible” as possible — so that readers or hearers go as directly as possible to what the words refer to and the emotions they might produce.

    In my haiku workshops, when we’re all gathered in a circle of chairs discussing this subject, I’ve sometimes said to one student or another, “Look! There’s a snake under your chair.” Everyone knows that of course there isn’t any snake, but that’s not what happens. Without exception, the students I’ve said this to have looked under their chair. That’s because those words are “wordless” — people have immediately gone to the primary meaning (there’s something under their particular chair). I’ve also sometimes said simply that there’s a piece of paper (rather than a snake) under a person’s chair. Again, they still immediately look under their chair. It doesn’t matter whether I’m referring to a snake or a piece of paper — the point is that they immediately act on the words they hear because they couldn’t be ANY CLEARER. Being as clear and immediate as possible is what I think it means for a haiku to be “wordless.” The point is not to SEE the words, but to go to what they mean so you’re not even conscious of the words — the same way my students immediately looked under their chairs because they weren’t thinking about the words of what I just said. Of course, a “wordless” sort of haiku is just one type of haiku, and I don’t mean to say that all haiku have to be like this, but the best “image-based” haiku typically are.

    As a variation of “something under your chair” statement, I’ve sometimes crumpled up a piece of paper and tossed it to someone, sometimes without a word, sometimes by saying, “Here, catch.” Whether I say something or not, the person instinctively reaches out to catch the paper. I then ask them if they told their hand to catch it — how did they do that (catch the paper). And of course there’s no answer. That’s also how a haiku is wordless. It just happens — and comes across in words as utterly natural and spontaneous — it just happens. And yes, we then use words to convey this moment of perception.

    I am also reminded of this old question: “Can God make something too heavy for him to lift?” Ponder that for a while! And here’s my answer: Yes, of course God can make something too heavy for him to lift. AND he can lift it. That’s the philosophical realm of what haiku seeks to do through its “wordlessness.” The map is not the thing, and the haiku is not the experience. But by using words haiku seeks to come as close as possible to the thing, to the experience. To me it’s fairly trivial what this poetry might be called, whether haiku, hokku, or skoobydoobydooku. But I love to dwell in this poetry (and yes, it’s poetry) that captures a moment of perception to create a shared emotional response. That, I believe, is why all of us (and I do mean all of us) write the sort of poetry that we do.

    Michael

  50. Of course haiku is a poem, and so is hokku. When Blyth said haiku is not poetry, notice that he immediately started using metaphors to describe it — a mirror wiped clean. Think about it. Of course haiku is NOT a mirror, whether wiped clean or not. It’s only a mirror in a metaphorical or symbolic sense. That should give you a clue that the premise of that statement (that haiku is not a poem) is not literal either. Blyth is simply being figurative, and I’m grateful to him for it.

    And of course Bltyh used the term “haiku” appropriately when referring to this poetry, and in naming his books (one can’t selectively decide that he got that part wrong, but other parts right). That’s because “haiku” was the appropriate term. Centuries ago, I believe the word “child” referred only to one gender, but has evolved to mean both boys and girls. Language changes, and thank goodness. The genre of haiku includes the old hokku, and just as the old hokku talked about seasons and nature as well as the technology of the day (fulling blocks, horse carts, and so forth), so too the haiku (and hokku) of today can talk about cell phones and airplanes and satellites. Yet no one says you have to. Any one of us can write just about nature if we want to (although remember that haiku isn’t a nature poem — it’s a *seasonal* poem, and seasonal references can refer to human activities without necessarily bringing nature into the poem). And yes, one can choose to write only about “beautiful” subjects — or just dark or ugly subjects — if one chooses. These choices have been the case with hokku as well as haiku down through the centuries. Did Shiki change haiku? Well, yes and no. Where he changed it, it was because it needed changing — and revitalizing. Indeed, perhaps none of us would be talking about this if it weren’t for Shiki. Haiku might be an obscure, neglected art from feudal Japan if it were not for Shiki and his successors. But even if that’s not true, I am grateful that this poetry, as Henderson put it, will become what the poets make it. Henderson also said that it couldn’t stray too far and still be considered haiku, but it’s easy to understand what literary haiku is (disagreements and preferences tend to revolve around fundamentals basics). Even hokku isn’t as cut and dried as some people like to think it is.

    Michael

  51. Since the subject has changed much like an ancient renga, I’d like to bring it back to the discussion of what a definition of modern English-language haiku might look like. I realize that this subject may appear later as a topic of its own on a later platform, but I would like to offer what I consider a beginning towards such a definition. Perhaps, later on it can be amended,modified, enhanced, by my colleagues, to insure that exceptions are are not excluded an an openess remains.

    Modern English language haiku, whose antecedents can be traced to the Japanese verse forms of hokku and its late 19th century revisionist form of haiku, is a brief verse, generally written in one, two, or three lines, that presents the earth-the sensuous reality of the non-human- and sets it into the world-the historical human context. In its function of naming, it allows the non-human ,with its quality of strangeness, to be perceived in a way it cannot do of its own accord; the haiku process of naming brings beings to words and thereby to openness, to appearance and thus into the human world. In this dual purpose of haiku, seasonal references (the original Japanese “kigo”) are sometimes retained, as is juxtaposition of two phrases comprising the form ( a facsimile of the original Japanese “kireji), a means of opening or knowing the unknown and imposing an order on and meaning to it. In modern English-language haiku, bringing beings to words and appearance makes them shine with resplendence and sometimes this process may be likened to “epiphany,” although an epiphany of the mind, and not of a deity.

  52. ” I am more a student of the Enneagram than of M-B.” Peter

    I was, in youth, more of a student of Astrology than M-B or Enneagram or anything else. 🙂

    I am a Taurus with a Capricorn ascendant and Moon, Mars and Venus in Aries, goodness help me…and I love water in all of its forms.

    Howz the last couple of lines of this for an image that can be felt, that resonates in the body? (well, our snakes are for the most part more poisonous than yours, but Emily got it, all of it.) :

    A narrow fellow in the grass
    Occasionally rides;
    You may have met him,–did you not,
    His notice sudden is.

    The grass divides as with a comb,
    A spotted shaft is seen;
    And then it closes at your feet
    And opens further on.

    He likes a boggy acre,
    A floor too cool for corn.
    Yet when a child, and barefoot,
    I more than once, at morn,

    Have passed, I thought, a whip-lash
    Unbraiding in the sun,–
    When, stooping to secure it,
    It wrinkled, and was gone.

    Several of nature’s people
    I know, and they know me;
    I feel for them a transport
    Of cordiality;

    But never met this fellow,
    Attended or alone,
    Without a tighter breathing,
    And zero at the bone.

  53. Personally, I would love to have a discussion around personality and poetry/poets/haiku. I wonder how much interest there is? I am more a student of the Enneagram than of M-B.
    Somewhere I said that a haiku is a balance between control(judging) and surrender (perceiving)—if that’s true it would indicate an integration between modes of perception and operation.

    Here’s Dickinson’s famous “ A Route of Evanescence”

    A Route of Evanescence
    With a revolving Wheel —
    A Resonance of Emerald —
    A Rush of Cochineal —
    And every Blossom on the Bush
    Adjusts its tumbled Head —
    The mail from Tunis, probably,
    An easy Morning’s Ride –

    which may be a good example to use because it is, AFAIC, 6 or 7 haiku compressed in 8 lines—compression compressed.

    Though I did my MFA thesis on ED, I never looked at her poems in this light. (I was and am no scholar—my approach was to read a bunch of stuff then write, somewhat impressionistically, the way I would write a poem).

    For me, regarding longer poems, the presence of qualifiers (Elisabeth Bishop, perhaps) would indicate a strong perceiving type. ED is more definite, assured with each stroke (as befits her subject) except maybe, the “probably” near the end, But I think only someone who had surrendered (been open to) language could write “A Rush of Cochineal”.

    I always thought that ED’s need to keep to her room came out of being too open to the universe, too easily overwhelmed. She’s as big as Whitman, though, as well-travelled: she came by her bigness through introversion; he through extraversion—it would seem.

    ED’s “Route” also seems a balance of word-based and image-based. Word-based insofar as the words, the language itself is lush, and delicious, but all in service, I’d say, of the images. Maybe others will see this differently. Maybe for some the subject of the poem “revolves” clockwise, for others counter. The question is: does the language surrender to the image, or does it get in the way? “I don’t want to be loved for my body, but for my mind!” Or both?

    Be fun to pull a few haiku out of this.

  54. The figure, when I first looked at it, was turning clockwise for me and stayed turning clockwise. I looked away and back in several different ways to see if it’d change direction, and it did a few times, but not the majority of times. When it did it stayed turning anti-clockwise until I looked away and back again. When I did that it was usually still turning anti-clockwise when I looked back but as soon as I let my concentration lapse it was turning clockwise again.

    According to the theory, then I’d be classified as predominantly using ‘right brain’ functions.

    This twirling figure seems to be a bit like those much older, non-moving images where it is possible to see eg an old woman or a young woman, a vase or two faces in profile, but one can’t see both old/young woman or vase/ faces in profile at the same time.

    Long ago, when I did that Meyer-Briggs test (and it’s long-lost) the ‘introvert/ extrovert’ part came out strongly at ‘introvert’ (which was no surprise to me) but the ‘perception/ judgement’ part came out to be equally balanced. It was pointed out to me that this was statistically less usual than a definite leaning towards either ‘perception’ or ‘judgement’. (I’ve long ago lost the bits of paper so forget the other two categories)

    “That other great poet, Donald Trump, is a strong judging type”

    Very funny, Peter, but if you wanted to be more serious about contrasting a ‘strong judging type’ of poet to your ‘strong perceiving type’ Keats, then you might try Alexander Pope, of the preceding century.

    But how would you classify Emily Dickenson as either of these two types…’judging’ or ‘perceiving’? And, would her work be fitted into either the ‘word-based’ or ‘image-based’ category?

  55. An INTJ here, and an ongoing student of Meyers-Briggs my whole adult life because I found it the best tool out there for understanding how I’m wired and how it differs from person to person. It starts to get really interesting, and amazingly accurate, when you learn the 4 “temperaments” (SJ, SP, NT, NF) and the 16 “types” (mine INTJ, though I’m so close on the P/J scale I could call myself an INTX). There are lots of Meyers-Briggs sites online and lots of great books on the topic. What Peter said about the development of the weaker opposite sides of ourselves is something that naturally happens to everyone as they get older, yet our basic profile really is a hard-wiring that stays consistent through ones life.

    John, I tried closing one eye or the other and didn’t find any change. Most of the time she is turning counter-clockwise for me, but a third of the time clockwise, and which ever direction it starts it doesn’t change no matter how long I stare at it (though I can force it the opposite way with enough effort). I know of one person where it never makes a full rotation at all, but just keeps switching back and forth, back and forth.

  56. Chris,

    Thanks for that. I found it fascinating, even though I’m not sure what it might mean.

    I looked and said of course she is turning clockwise. This seemed obvious to me. And as long as I looked in my normal way, I couldn’t see her moving anti-clockwise.

    I’ve been legally blind in my left eye since birth. Not correctable, though. I do see out of that eye and can sometimes make out the big E on an eye chart with it.

    When I closed my right eye it was possible for me to see the direction of rotation change from clockwise to anti-clockwise. Then, when I opened my right eye, that was all I could see. Couldn’t switch it back, until I again closed my right eye and looked with my left eye – the one that can’t quite see.

    Again, no idea what that is supposed to mean. But intriguing.

  57. I certainly consider right-brain/ left brain considerations to be a “way of saying”, and not hard science. There are others, maybe better ways. One might be familiar to anyone who has taken a Myers-Briggs personality test, and found out, for example, if they didn’t already know, that they tend more to introspection than extraversion (or may be balanced). Another pairing (there are 4) is judging/perceiving. The words may be misleading, but very generally indicate, for one who tends to be a “judging” type, an inclination to want things well-defined, definite, unambiguous. For the perceiving type, the tendency is more towards wanting to keep things open-ended, indefinite. John Keats would be a strong perceiving type– (think “negative capability”). That other great poet, Donald Trump, is a strong judging type. Fwiw, I’m a nearly hopeless perceiving type: “chameleon poet”, I’m at home in paradox, etc. I don’t concern myself with distinctions around hokku/haiku, but I’m glad some do, and if they didn’t, I might have to. I believe some of our more angular conversations here can be seen in the light of varying tendencies. I do hesitate to bring this in, (or carry what others have said forward) because people have a fear of being “typed”. The operative word, however, is *tendency*.

    Which brings a significant point– the importance of developing one’s weaker side(s). Jung spoke to this.
    My participation on this blog goes counter to my very strong introversion. Someone developing a weakness may go about it in too strong a way for a while.

    So it’s important for me to hear Lorin and others talk about the need to define terms. For me, the value of a provocation like “wordless-poem” and the value of any paradox, is that if I can be true to my “negative capability”– *when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason*, then the seeming contradiction inherent in the paradox may spill its riches, and I will see, perhaps, what a “word” is and what a “poem” is
    in ways that I might have been too lazy to appreciate otherwise.

    So it would appear that for some, the distinction of word-based poem and wordless poem is significant, and for others not.

    Is this distinction essentially between a haiku/poem whose energy is held in an image, and one whose energy is
    held in something else? If I were teaching a class on haiku, I would probably start by asking students to wrestle with images– write one hundred haiku (expect them to be bad) which contain an image. Then, months later, I might say, now write one hundred haiku (expect them to be really bad) without an image.

    Could be fun.

  58. Jack is right. If we are to talk *about* haiku or poetry, we do need to define our terms, and use terms that are the least mystifying as possible. David, when he shows us Humpty-Dumpty’s hubristic silliness (‘a word means anything I want it to mean’) is aware of this sort of error but unfortunately he doesn’t apply the lesson to Blyth’s or his own slippery use of the words ‘poem’ & ‘poetry’.

    But we are asking for this sort of equivocation as soon as we start using terms like ‘wordless poem’ in a discussion, no matter how evocative or inspirational we might think it is.

    Cherie, the ‘right brain, left brain’ idea is a useful sort of image when we want to distinguish the processes of logic/ intellect from intuitive/ creative, as an illustration, an analogy, an ‘as if’, as long as we keep in mind that it *is* a ‘way of saying’, and not a matter of actual fact: neither process has been shown to be the function of either side of the brain, or more precisely, either side of the cerebral cortex, though it was a theory which gained popularity for a while.

    That said, whether any individual is more oriented more towards ‘right brain’ or ‘left brain’,by nature or by training or by preference or from habit, all normal/average humans can and do use *both* of these processes, probably every day of their lives. It does seem to be the case, however, that most of us don’t use them consciously *at the same time*, but alternatively. We put one hat on (so to speak) which the old Chinese might’ve named
    ‘The Receptive’- Yin to enable a receptive/ intuitive state in which we might be inspired to write a poem, but then take it off and put on the other hat (The Creative -Yan) to take a critical peek at our draft jottings and evaluate them. Perhaps then we revise them.

    We switch back and forth from one mode to the other.

    One state of mind / function of mind is, as you say, not superior over the other.

    But in order to *discuss* anything, those involved do need to arrive at and agree on what is meant by the *terms* used in the discussion if the discussion is to bear any fruit. In doing so, we use the ‘left brain’ and the processes of reason (Yang- The Creative), and it is pretty hard for ‘one side of the brain’ to talk about the other or attempt to translate for it.

    All art, perhaps, is itself an expression of the bridge between these modes, or an attempt at a bridge. If we are discussing haiku, and if haiku is poetry (an art), then we can discuss it. If it is not poetry, but something else, then I leave it to those who know what it is.

  59. This is too fun not to share as an addendum to Cherie’s post, though I hope it doesn’t hijack the Sail. Maybe some of you have seen this. It claims to tell you whether you’re left or right brained. I’m thinking it’s more guesswork than science but *something* in the brain makes this dancer turn clockwise or counter-clockwise for different people (or in my case at different times) and I find it highly intriguing:

    http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/right-brain-v-left-brain/story-e6frf7jo-1111114603615

    PS- how the actual animation works is pretty elementary but there is also a site that explains that if anyone is interested.

  60. Is there such a thing as a wordless poem? Yes there is but I can’t explain it to you because it would take words. I’m not trying to be obstreperous. It is the difference between right brain and left brain processing. Logic and definitions are left brain activities. Intuition and creativity are right brain activities. To oversimplify this situation I’d say those pushing for definitions and set of rules are speaking firmly from the left hemisphere dominance. Those more focused on visual, holistic, and intuitive ways of thinking and knowing are right brain oriented. There are very few truly ambidextrous individuals (in handedness) and that applies to the brain as well. We have different sets of bearings in this discussion—one is not superior over the other.

  61. I want to make something clear. I appreciate and often am informed, inspired and truly educated by what I read on this blog and value those who take the time and sometimes risk to contribute. If it seemed otherwise, I apologize. Selfishly, but not only, I want the blog to thrive.

  62. Let us take a step back, if you will, from Japan to ancient Greece, since our civilization owes much more of its words and therefore understanding to Greek civilization than it does to Japan. And, Blyth might have wanted to consider this, since he was translating into English, a language heavily indebted to the Greek language (and Latin) and that his words were conveyors, intentionally or not, of English’s immanent Greek philosophical heritage.
    The word poetry itself, as we are all aware, derived in English from the Greek word poiesis, which meant essentially “to make.”
    The word poiesis was a verb, an action that transforms and continues the world. It is a genesis, a begetting and bringing forth.
    Heidegger, in his book What is Poetry, and a scholar of ancient Greek philosophy, understood poiesis as a “bringing forth.” Poetry is a moment of ecstasis, when something moves away from its standing as one thing to become another.
    Had Blyth considered that the words he used had a history and that history would convey more and sometimes other significance than he intended, he would perhaps have chosen other words to express hokku as poetry or the world as poetry, since the word poetry already and always conveys poiesis, a bringing forth and movement away from something standing on its own to become something else. He would have recognized that the world is not poiesis and that a deeply felt experience of significance of a thing-event was not poiesis, but could only be so as it became something else, a poem, a making.

  63. David:
    You go on ad infinitum lecturing how the pundits, authors, authorities since the second half of the twentieth century have obfuscated what hokku and haiku are because they lack the foundation of what the art is as understood and interpreted by Blyth.
    The funny thing is, after rereading your blog entry on hokku, I find the opposite to be true: that you and Blyth use the word poetry as a thing-event that is felt in the reader upon viewing it, that somehow the world as thing event is “poetry” and it simply a matter of experiencing that allows a hokku to be born.
    I find your “definition” of hokku to lack any kind of determinacy worth noting and is the more reified, mystified, and lacking in precision advanced so far in this discussion.

    I give you your own words for you to ponder and reflect upon:

    “There is a poetry independent of rhyme and rhythm, of onomatopoeia and poetic brevity, of cadence and parallelism, of all form whatsoever. It is wordless and thoughtless even when expressed in words and notions, and lives a life separate from that of so-called poetry. It is the seeing we do when a white butterfly flutters by us down the valley, never to return.” (Eastern Culture)

    To summarize all of this quite simply, hokku is not what we ordinarily think of as poetry (so-called), but hokku lives a life separate from that of so-called poetry. There we have it in a nutshell.

    When we say, then, that hokku are not poems, not poetry, we are saying it so that we may distinguish it from all poetry so-called, by which we mean all that normally passes as poetry in English-language cultures.

    What then, do we mean by poetry in hokku? We mean simply a thing-event in which we perceive an unspoken, deep significance.

    Blyth tells us that “This poetry of things is not something superimposed on them, but brought out of them as the sun and rain bring the tender leaf out of the hard buds.”

    That means poetry (as we are speaking of it in relation to hokku) is not something we add to a thing-event as one adds condiments to spice up a soup. It is not a dash of metaphor, a thick slice of iambic pentameter, a pinch of alliteration. Instead, poetry is something awakened by certain thing-events, and when we experience such a thing-event, we “automatically” perceive the poetry in it. That is the poetical experience of hokku, and that is the entire point of hokku. Without this poetry in a thing-event, hokku would not, could not exist.

    David

    So, we can say, as you do, that without supplying a working definition of what poetry is in the first instance, hokku is something different from this undefined intangible; that it is the felt experience of a thing-event, whatever that is, that has deep significance.
    Could we paraphrase this as defining hokku is any deeply felt experience of the world and that the world by Blyth’s and your definition is “poetry?”
    Seems to lack any appreciable limits, parameters useful as what is consensually understood as a definition.
    Besides, its obvious obfuscation and mystification, your definition would not satisfy, say, an engineer as to what a deep experience of the world is, or a farmer, or a husband or wife, or a philospher, a grammarian, or what have you.
    You, in short, do not define your terms, any of them, nor does Blyth; you are both mystifiers, illusionists, who equate deeply felt experiences of signifcance in the world as “poetry.” But this begs the question and so I find you more guilty, or equally guilty, as those you have so rashly and smugly criticized in all your postings thus far in this blog.

    ——————————————————————————–

  64. Important questions are often posed here that do not get addressed, and one trusts that in time, they will. Ripeness is all.

    I do think that controversy, when not driven by personal need, can be encouraging, and I think some of what David presents is valuable. However,
    I do *not find* insult and condescension encouraging. They take me away from what is important and lock me into reactivity. I try not to go there, and probably contradict myself by saying:

    one gets the sense that David knows the answer to his question. It comes across more as a test than an invitation to explore. I’ve been to that school before.

    If there is anything valuable in this conversation, I hope someone will identify it and cut through the shit so we can move on.

  65. Chris kindly quoted:

    “Isn’t a hokku a poem? The answer is that a hokku is not a poem, and hokku is not poetry, and those who write hokku are not poets.”

    http://hokku.wordpress.com/2010/03/21/freedom-from-poetry/

    Unfortunately, however, Chris did not stop to ponder and realize what those apparently contradictory words mean; and so they remain a wall to him, not a door. Blyth offered readers the same end of a golden string, and similarly, most refused it and pursued it no farther. But William Blake could have provided good counsel:

    “I give you the end of a golden string
    Only wind it into a ball
    It will lead you in at heaven’s gate
    Built in Jerusalem’s walls.”

    Not knowing that, Chris remarks,

    “But I’m even more leery of any claim that a haiku or hokku is beyond poetry. Good art often points to something beyond itself, but no art can bear the weight of having to be something more than what it is.”

    Blyth himself gave the answer to that:

    “Things must speak to us so loudly that we cannot hear what the poets have said about them.”

    Instead of blindly implying that a verse cannot possibly be both poetry and not poetry at the same time, one should instead be asking how and why one would say such a thing of verse, and what it might mean if actually put into practice.

  66. Chris never asked David whether the latter viewed hokku as poetry or not. -David

    David, I read between the lines that was the case and verified it by reading a number of your blogs:

    “Isn’t a hokku a poem? The answer is that a hokku is not a poem, and hokku is not poetry, and those who write hokku are not poets.”
    http://hokku.wordpress.com/2010/03/21/freedom-from-poetry/

  67. So many interesting things to comment on, so little time.

    I just want to add a few thoughts to the remarks I made earlier (at the risk of opening a whole new subject) which others’ comments sparked:

    Whilst haiku has been used by some people primarily as a ‘Way’, a spiritual discipline or part thereof, its origins were in poetry… Whatever other purposes haiku has been put to or are being put to are secondary: it is still poetry. –Lorin

    for Basho the way of elegance was a way of life (kado, the way of poetry) that could lead to enlightenment. –Jack

    those who dislike the notion of either a hokku or a haiku as something beyond a “poem,” –David

    I realize art can be used for any number of purposes. I’ve used writing and painting as therapy, for instance, and I would hope that all my writing goes hand in hand with personal growth, though in my observations, when art is used for mainly utilitarian purposes (emphasis on ‘mainly’) it’s a lessor thing than it could be. Without Michelangelo’s creative vision the Sistine Chapel ceiling could have been mainly utilitarian.

    Not that I view art as the be all and end all. But I’m even more leery of any claim that a haiku or hokko is beyond poetry. Good art often points to something beyond itself, but no art can bear the weight of having to be something more than what it is.

  68. Sandra wrote,

    “Perhaps my answer was too brief, in that I didn’t elucidate that I meant that the “I” who decides whether a 3-line (say) poem is a haiku is the reader, whether that reader be knowledgeable or not, an editor or not, etc.”

    Again as Alice would say, “Curiouser and curioser.” How can “the reader” possibly know whether something read is a haiku or not, if the reader cannot even define what a haiku is? As Alan has revealed, the only commonly-held descriptor of a haiku among all the fragmented groups and individuals practicing it today as “haiku” in English is brevity. But I must add that I have seen verses described as “haiku” that are at least five lines long, so even brevity is not always an infallible element.

    As for giving Sandra the “Humpty-Dumpty” treatment, it is all meant in good humor, but it is remarkably applicable and apt when applied to modern haiku. So far the method of identifying a haiku is precisely that of Humpty-Dumpty in using and defining a word — “It means whatever I want it to mean.”

    That is precisely the attitude among writers and editors of modern haiku in general, with the exception of the few conservatives such as Yuki Teiki who still admit the existence and value of standards.

    Sandra added,

    People who have a good understanding of haiku will soon decide what is a haiku and what is not – and maybe we can stop tormenting ourselves over what is, in effect, a “little” question. Oh, and the standard of writing will probably improve too.

    “People who have a good understanding of haiku will soon decide what is a haiku and what is not.” Who are these people? Where are they, And if they have not been able to define and distinguish a haiku up to now, what hope is there that they shall be able to do so in the future, as haiku continues to fragment into contrary and individualistic and contradictory approaches? Not even knowing precisely what one writes and even sometimes presumes to teach is not at all a “little question.” Quite the contrary, it is the elephant in the room.

    It is precisely the pundits of haiku in the latter half of the 20th century who have caused the massive confusion regarding haiku that exists today. William J. Higginson’s “Haiku Handbook,” for example, purported to teach haiku — but what it really did was to present the unprepared reader with a shotgun blast of widely-varying kinds of verse all labeled, for some inexplicable reason, “haiku.” If even the supposed teachers and founders of modern haiku cannot define it reasonably (and there are those far more radical than Higginson out there today), how can one possibly expect such a thing of the completely unprepared reader?

    Given such a situation, how can one possibly speak with any confidence of “educating” children in haiku when even the writers of modern haiku cannot come up with any kind of accepted definition or distinguishing characteristics of what they are writing? This is the blind leading the blind, and it reflects well the rise of modern haiku in the latter half of the 20th century and its “authorities” — in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.

    Going out to teach and promote haiku in schools when one does not even know what it is just furthers the confusion that begin in the 1960s about haiku in English. Before any attempt to teach, one should know precisely what one is teaching. Otherwise one will be doing little more than sharing personal preferences and private distortions and misunderstandings.

    Peter (whom I encourage to explore and expand on his notion of haiku as a “layering of qualities,” when he has thought more deeply about it), said,

    “David, your last post gave me some energy to say a couple of things. If your tone were the general tone of this blog, however, I am certain it would die. And I deeply regret that apparently you can’t tell the difference between green and *green*.”

    I think the result is just the opposite, Peter. From my experience people flock to controversy, and given the state of modern haiku, I think a good dose of open and realistic discussion is precisely what is needed. Not only does such discussion encourage people to examine their often mistaken or unexplored preconceptions, it also tends to reveal, over time, when the Emperor has no clothes.

    And given that no one here has yet been able to give any explanation of how to distinguish a modern haiku from any other short verse of the same approximate length, it would appear very likely that the Emperor may, in fact, have gone out naked among the public. We need not worry whether his clothes are green or *green*; instead we should wonder if they exist at all.

    Finally, just as is is said that the unexamined life is not worth living, one could also say that the unexamined verse is not worth writing. There is a great deal of wisdom in the statement currently popular on the Internet regarding artists, which I will give again here changing only the last word. I think it applies to much of modern haiku and what is written about it:

    “The fact that you make no sense doesn’t mean you’re a poet.”

  69. No, it’s not particularly inviting, but that has never stopped me before.

    Peter, I can only speak as a lurker primarily, and as someone “new to the haiku scene,” but I appreciate the knowledge and conversation here. It’s a selfish thing really, as I cannot offer much back of scholarly value. So, I take more than I give and I do have qualms about that. Apologies.

    Sandra, please count me as looking forward, with respect to the past certainly, but firmly forward.

  70. My approach to these Sailings is that they provide a space for discussion, where whoever wishes can speak from his or her point of view and experience. My wish is that this be done in a way where each feels encouraged, and I accept that sometimes challenge can be encouraging.

    David’s question engaged me because it is my question also. I went ahead and set down some thoughts– I went contrary to my own wish to wait
    and went with some inner momentum that had developed. If David or anyone else is dissatisfied with anything I say– that I see haiku as a layering of qualities rather than as an object, for example, I can’t help that. It is my approach, not my position. Perhaps the nature of electronic communication or my own deficiencies as a prose writer make it difficult to grasp the *paradox* I am presenting. The paradox/mystery of haiku and all poetry I would say is equally that of the being called human: of body/mind, or body/psyche, or body/ soul.

    When I had written a couple of posts yesterday, I woke from a nap feeling that I would take a break from the blog for a while. I had the impression that the same dozen or so participants, each of whose points of views were pretty well known to the others and anyone else following the discussions, were in some kind of locked room together, or a room perceived by others as locked, or not inviting.

    I hope others feel otherwise. Nonetheless, I found myself somewhat bugged that a lot of people who could enrich these discussions are staying away. There are, for starters, about 30 Associates connected to this Foundation. They “are the chief ambassadors for the Foundation, supplying knowledge of every facet of haiku—theory, practice, editing, publishing, and so on—and are the major group of volunteers the Foundation possesses to implement our various projects”. Several of these associates are regular contributors to Troutswirl; most are not and have never been heard from. And no doubt some have very good reasons.

    I’m not trying to shame anyone into doing something. I just think that at this point, about a year after its inception, the “ecosystem” of this blog needs a shot of diversification for its own health. I could be dead wrong.

    David, your last post gave me some energy to say a couple of things. If your tone were the general tone of this blog, however, I am certain it would die. And I deeply regret that apparently you can’t tell the difference between green and *green*. Guess that’s the difference between you and me. Vive la!

  71. Whew! I thought it was just me that David had decided to “demolish” with sarcasm.

    Perhaps my answer was too brief, in that I didn’t elucidate that I meant that the “I” who decides whether a 3-line (say) poem is a haiku is the reader, whether that reader be knowledgeable or not, an editor or not, etc.

    But I don’t think I deserved the “Humpty Dumpty” treatment.

    My comment about looking forward still stands and, as far as I can tell, did not have disdain poured upon it so I shall proceed to expand upon it.

    The challenge to writers of haiku today is to educate, educate, educate. People who have a good understanding of haiku will soon decide what is a haiku and what is not – and maybe we can stop tormenting ourselves over what is, in effect, a “little” question. Oh, and the standard of writing will probably improve too.

    Offer to go into your local school(s) and introduce the kids to haiku – volunteers are generally welcome. Teachers often have not been taught very well on haiku so encourage them to sit in and join the writing exercises, it all helps.

    Who knows? In a generation or two there may be no more online Britney Spears/ale/fruitcake, etc haiku contests. They are a bigger threat to what haiku is than knowing what it is not.

  72. Jack shared that he was bored with Blyth and bothered that R. H. said a haiku is not a poem, so Jack sold his books. That tells us a great deal about Jack but nothing at all about Blyth, who is nearly universally misunderstood among enthusiasts of modern haiku. In fact misunderstanding (or equally, ignoring) Blyth was so endemic in the founding days of Western haiku that English language haiku virtually got off on the wrong foot from its very inception. Some — those who dislike the notion of either a hokku or a haiku as something beyond a “poem,” may think that is all to the good. Others (like myself) will find it unfortunate, because hokku was thrown out the window by those who had no idea what they were discarding.

    Jack also tells us that a haiku is is not a tercet, which is of course completely wrong, but no need to dwell on that now.

    Peter suspects that haiku is really a tender native Japanese plant that may not be capable of flourishing in foreign soil, and is not concerned if his verses are called haiku or not. He speaks of verses “having” haiku rather than being haiku, as though “haiku” were a quality and not a kind of verse, which is a novel idea if not a particularly promising one. He also promises a whole “Sailing” devoted to the issue raised, and I look forward to that. Peter also says that reading a poem by Cid Corman that may or may not have been a haiku sharpened his senses, and when he looked out the window he saw that the green outside his window was “*green*” One shudders to think what it might have been had he not read the poem.

    John says,

    “Before I cooperate in an effort to define “haiku” I’d want to know how the definition would be used, by whom, and to what ends. While I can see the payoff for a scholar, I wonder what’s in it for a poet. Speaking for no one but myself, there is something inside that says down with definitions.” Is John perhaps already outside burning his dictionary as women used to burn their bras in the 1960s?

    Chris says he was “simply responding to the fact that David doesn’t view hokku as poetry.” A surprising fact, given that Chris never asked David whether the latter viewed hokku as poetry or not. One wonders how the absence of an answer gave rise to a “fact.” Instead of an unanswered question, Chris offers an unquestioned answer.

    Alan, in a burst of insight that rises like fireworks above the level of the rest of the discussion to this point says,

    “My take is that haiku in English is a flexible *genre* with various norms and only one universal (brevity). It’s not a rule-based *form* like a sonnet, a sestina, a pantoum, a rondeau, or a villanelle.”

    Bravo, Alan. That is indeed what English-language haiku has become, speaking in general terms (I am tempted to say the depth to which it has fallen, but that of course would be viewing modern haiku in terms of hokku). I would only add that haiku cannot be a genre if it cannot be defined. It is instead generally a misnomer.

    Alan also, unfortunately, quotes Bashō as advising “Learn the rules then forget them,” but Bashō wrote some three hundred years before the rise of modern haiku, and he was of course speaking of the rules of haikai, of which the hokku was a part, and the reason he said one was to learn them then “forget them” was to remind students that once the rules had thoroughly been learned and absorbed, one no longer needed to slavishly refer to them like a novice; one would have absorbed the spirit that gave rise to the rules.

    That of course is quite the opposite of the modern haiku approach of having no rules to learn to begin with, and virtually making it up as one goes along. One cannot blame modern haiku and its present chaotic state on Bashō.

    What has become obvious is that no one up to this point has been able to define modern haiku as distinct from any other kind of modern brief verse of approximately the same length. If one cannot even decide what a haiku should be, one cannot legitimately expect to know if a given example is a good haiku, a bad haiku, or even a haiku at all.

    I look forward to a deeper discussion of this when Peter raises the subject on its own in a new “Sailing.”

  73. Jack, thanks for posting Basho’s musings from ‘Travel-worn Satchel’.

    John and Allan, lovely perspectives on ‘something there is that doesn’t love a wall’ from Frost extended into A.R. Ammon’s

    …by transitions the land falls from grassy dunes to creek
    to undercreek: but there are no lines, though
    change in that transition is clear. . . ‘

    I must try to find some of his work.

    David, thanks for the full quotation from Blyth – Haiku, volume 1, Eastern Culture. (I don’t have access to much of Blyth) So he says in one place that hokku are poetry and in another that they are not. He acknowledges that hokku are poems, but (this is how I see it anyway) he does not confuse the poem itself, which is made of words and silences, with what a successful poem constellates.

    It is in this sense that a poem is ‘a finger pointing’ and not the moon it points to, and that goes for ‘long poems’ of various kinds and forms as well as for haiku. When somebody asks, ‘What is haiku?’, are they asking, ‘What is poetry?’. If so, how can we answer? But if they are asking how to tell the difference between haiku and other kinds of poems, at least we can make a start by attempting to describe this particular ‘finger’, which is made of words and silences, like any other kind of poem, though perhaps the proportion of words to silences is different in haiku, perhaps their are aesthetic guidelines which indicate how haiku works differently than other kinds of poems. Beyond that, we show examples of haiku, suggest further reading of haiku and trust that the reader will experience ‘the moon’ more and more through the vehicle of the haiku, if the haiku find a resonance in this reader.

    Poetry is difficult, perhaps impossible, to define. Form, function and style can be analysed, but analysis and commentary cannot take the place of the poem.

    Here is a fairly short poem by Wyslawa Szymborska, ‘Some Like Poetry’:

    http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/some-like-poetry/

    …and here is a poem by Jaques Prevert, which I came across and liked in my mid-teens (long, long ago, now)

    http://www.employees.org/~sttang/To_paint_the_portrait_of_a_bird.html

  74. Thanks Allan, That poem was a great liberating force in my life. Many thanks.
    By the way …it’s Gary Snyder’s birthday today… 🙂

  75. I also think of this by A. R. Ammons:

    I have reached no conclusions, have erected no boundaries,
    shutting out and shutting in, separating inside
    from outside: I have
    drawn no lines:
    as

    manifold events of sand
    change the dune’s shape that will not be the same shape
    tomorrow,

    so I am willing to go along, to accept
    the becoming
    thought, to stake off no beginnings or ends, establish no walls:

    by transitions the land falls from grassy dunes to creek
    to undercreek: but there are no lines, though
    change in that transition is clear
    as any sharpness: but “sharpness” spread out,
    allowed to occur over a wider range
    than mental lines can keep [. . .]

    (from “Corsons Inlet”)

  76. Hi, Chris. That was just an FYI. I did realize you had cited “lily” as a “word-based” haiku. I just found the tension between “wordless” and “word-based”, when applied to the same haiku, interesting–and thought you might too. These terms certainly can be elusive and paradoxical, but perhaps in stimulating ways.

    ***

    I appreciate the spirit of John’s quotation from “Mending Wall”–and there’s a good reason why that’s a quintessential “Amur’c’n” poem, very much in the tradition of Emerson’s “Line in nature is not found;/ Unit and universe are round” (from “Uriel”, which Frost always spoke very highly of).

    My take is that haiku in English is a flexible *genre* with various norms and only one universal (brevity). It’s not a rule-based *form* like a sonnet, a sestina, a pantoum, a rondeau, or a villanelle.

    Flexibility is its strength, and that makes it much harder to define, just as the following words are hard to define: “novel”; “poetry”; “music”; “art.”

    Variation within haiku has increased over time and as more individual talents have expressed themselves through haiku. It hasn’t remained static. What might have been hard-and-fast rules in the past are now better regarded as norms or conventions. You’ll see them all over the place in any contemporary haiku journal–seasonality, nature reference, kire, etc. But the full technical panoply isn’t necessary for each poem (something the poets have learned by writing!), and often aesthetic strength has been attained through a minimalism that relaxes some of the old “rules” in order to achieve a new effect or heightened expressivity. Haiku has its own evolving tradition, and it’s anything but simple.

    “Learn the rules and then forget them.”–Bashō

    “free haiku”–Marlene Mountain

    Allan

  77. I also find John’s quote of the “Mending Wall” apropos. While classification is reasonable and useful, no one wants to see art forms sealed in airtight compartments.

    I’m not a Basho scholar but I’m sure his body of work can not be squeezed into any airtight definition of haiku or hokku, and like any artist he would bristle at any attempts to do so.

  78. A great poem, Peter, and like Corman, I don’t really care for haiku rules or definitions.
    One thing I would like to add though: let’s say for the sake of argument that a word-based haiku is a closed system-self referential. Additionally, let’s say the haiku was intended to be just that and wasn’t a failure of the imagination. Isn’t it quite possible that haiku of that order (and I’ve earlier discussed that at some length, calling it reflexive art) also and perhaps more so open up your consciousness, mind, actually explode the conventional mind to the “literary-ness of the world we usually inhabit and our awareness and senses are disoriented and opened by such an art to see that all the time we have not really been looking, but have been lulled asleep to a dream of the word as an open window to the world?

  79. PS to Alan,
    As far as I know I wasn’t objecting to anything you’ve said, simply responding to the fact that David doesn’t view hokku as poetry.

    Jack,
    Thanks for posting the Basho quote. It seems silly to have to present evidence for something so self-evident, that Basho was a poet, considered himself a poet, was and is considered a poet by everyone who reads him.

  80. Here’s a poem by Cid Corman. It was included in *The Unswept Path*, Contemporary American Haiku edited by John Brandi and Dennis Maloney.

    You’ll never get to
    the end of me—I doubt if
    I’ll get there either.

    I don’t think Corman would call this, or any of the poems he wrote in a similar vein, haiku. He says: “I often use the haiku syllabic structure but have never had any regard for haiku rules or any others”.

    But without that knowledge, and without even knowing the author’s name (something Corman might have wished), what would you make of this? The editors clearly thought it belonged in a book of contemporary American haiku.

    It does not present anything for the senses. Perhaps we could say then, it is word-based. And yet one quality (I’m thinking out loud here) of a word-based poem (or some) may be that it is a kind of closed system; self-referential. I don’t experience Corman’s poem this way. It feeds my introspection, yes, but it also invites me to look beyond itself, and beyond myself. Certainly beyond Cid Corman. It could be what a pine would say, or the ocean, except I doubt if a pine or an ocean ever doubts. So it goes inside, but doesn’t slam the door behind it.

    Does this make it a haiku? Once I have exhausted the criteria, can I still enjoy, value, learn from it? For me, yes. It doesn’t engage the senses, but looking up from it, my senses are sharpened—the green outside my window is… *green*.

    I’m interested in your experience. Or find a better, or another Corman poem to look at.

  81. P.S. to Chris: You might possibly find it interesting that Amann cites Virgilio’s “lily” as an example of what he means by a “wordless” poem. –Alan B

    Alan,
    I was actually giving an example of a “word-based” poem.
    Discussing the terms “word-based” and “wordless” on the same ‘Sails’ is confusing to say the least : ) since the terms, though related, are focusing on two different things?

    Granted, “image-based” and “wordless” are so related (both wanting the words and writer not to interfere) that I don’t know that I can parse the difference. Yet I think Virgilio’s “lily” as well as the Gary Hotham poem I quoted

    dark darker—
    too many stars
    too far

    and the Higginson poem that John quoted

    Holding the water,
    held by it—
    the dark mud

    could be considered “word-based” AND “wordless” since they reference the authors but in ways that are so natural and inconspicuous they don’t interfere with the experience.

    But I would welcome anyone who could elucidate the matter rather than further muddy it like I just did : )

  82. Very good point, Steven, and a very good exemplum.
    I have to admit to engaging in this pursuit of a definition of modern American haiku as more in the nature of an exercise, than as a means of walling in or out other definitions. If you know me and my work at all, and you may not, i am far from one who creates or abides by the many imaginary walls surrounding definitions of haiku (whoever promolgated them).
    I think I am a kindred spirit, Steven.
    Yet, I have held aloof for the most part from the American haiku scene (most of its journals), precisely because walls were meant and are still well-maintained and I question in my work their purpose and their use (in both the good and bad sense, as I understand it).
    Also, something can be said for building an edifice, even if its a straw hut that’s bound to come down. You know, there was a time that I questioned the writing of haiku, because I saw it as just one more example (perhaps a minute one) of human beings using nature, taming nature, to their own ends, however much they disclaimed this or said they were aiming at just the opposite result. I wondered whether it wasn’t better to leave the rock alone, rather than having to scrawl on it, cut it, leave our mark on it as evidence of our existence and evidence that we were here (and had a presumptive right to do so).
    Then, I thought, well, cultivation does serve a purpose and we would be hard-pressed to live without reshaping nature;it was a matter of degree, how much we could remain in conformity with it, fit in, so to speak.
    Is a definition necessary? No, I don’t think so. But, it could be argued that a loose definition, or hinting at something, couldn’t hurt, so long as we understood that it was just that and we didn’t make of it a credo, a religion, a manifesto, a way to separate and reject whatever didn’t conform to it.
    Don’t you think we are already doing that in ELH and that it wouldn’t hurt to engage it a broader, further exploration so that it was more inclusive, broader in scope, without forsaking some standards of what is and is not good art?
    The something that is that doesn’t love a wall is one of the powers of nature; yet nature has something else, a creative impulse that creates the leaf as a leaf, with edges (that do lead to involvement and interaction with more than the leaf and thereby expand what a leaf is) and I admire, am always dumbstruck by the fact that forms in nature end just where they do, that they have bodies and that there isn’t just this one undifferentiated thing called the universe. It’s paradoxical, I think, because really both things are existing at the same time, but please don’t confuse what I’m doing with any attempt to confine or limit possibilities, or to serve the ends of something or someone whose purpose may be suspect and even dangerous. Give me that much credit.

  83. “Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
    What I was walling in or walling out,
    And to whom I was like to give offence.
    Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
    That wants it down.”

    Robert Frost
    Mending Wall

    Before I cooperate in an effort to define “haiku” I’d want to know how the definition would be used, by whom, and to what ends. While I can see the payoff for a scholar, I wonder what’s in it for a poet. Speaking for no one but myself, there is something inside that says down with definitions.

  84. Finally, for now, I think we can safely say that American haiku written in two lines cannot be confused with a couplet. Couplets are usually rhymed, as American two-line haiku are not. Couplets do not always rhyme, but they are often written (both lines) in the same meter, which American two-line haiku do not.
    Couplets are usually contained in longer poems of which they make up the stanzas; American two-line haiku do not. Though as thought they can stand alone, they often are enjambed, meaning their meaning is completed by the couplets that precede or follow; sometimes each in is complete in itself and sometimes it is enjambed with the second line of the couplet. Thus, a couplet can stand alone, like a two-line American haiku, but they are more often than not pithy, epigrammatic statements when they stand alone, and two-line American haiku skirt being epigrammatic.
    I think we can say that two-line American haiku are not couplets.
    So, if I am right, we have been able to eliminate three forms of poetry that American haiku are not: monostich, couplet, and tercet.
    I realize this still begs the question, but to that later (or perhaps with the assistance and wisdom of my fellow travelers!

  85. I notice an error (Freudian perhaps) in one my entries. I meant to say Shiki did alter what had been called hokku.

  86. I would also say that American haiku written in one line is not what is called a monostich. I think this is primarily true because a monostich, because of its brevity, usually included a title, which is something that one-line American haiku do not contain.
    The monostich also is usually intended to be read as a one line unbroken unit of meaning and does not have the pauses, breaks, joining of more than one phrase within its structure we usually associate with American haiku written in one line.
    For a detailed discussion of the subject, I refer the reader to Haiku Clinic #3, From One-line Poems to One-line Haiku By William Higginson in found in Simply Haiku (just print monostich in your search and you will find it).
    I think, with care taken to the nuances and differences between monostich and one-line American haiku, we can safely say that an American haiku written in one line cannot be called a monostich. So, in my opinion, we have eliminated another possible misnomer and are that much closer to what an American haiku is (by what it is not and by what traces it lacks).

  87. One way of knowing what something is is by knowing what it is not. Many, though not all, modern American haiku are written in three lines. Can we call this a tercet? Not really. The tercet has its own unique history and was generally a stanza of three lines in a poem of greater length composed of such stanzas. Also, there were generally rhyme schemes included in tercets, which is not true of American haiku written in three lines.
    So, let’s begin by eliminating what American haiku as generally written is not: it is not an example of a tercet.
    So, to begin this “objective” definition of what we are writing and calling haiku, let us start by saying it is a brief poem, usually but not always written in three lines, but it is not a tercet.
    Perhaps, we are one step closer to it.

  88. A longish post. A long gush posed.

    David’s question: “I would …like to know…how (and why) [you] distinguish and differentiate a modern haiku from what is simply a modern “poem” in one, two, three or four lines”, is I think an important one, deserving of its own “Sailing”, and I’m going to reserve some of my own thoughts for that time. Much of the discussion so far has been and will probably continue to be at least obliquely connected to this question.

    I like something Niels Bohr said (according a quotes website):

    “Every sentence I utter must be understood not as an affirmation, but as a question”. Let’s see if I can say a few things in that vein.

    We know that Japanese aesthetics imbued the short—what shall I call them? –wordfields?– that they scribbled and spoke many years ago and maybe still. I do not believe they invented these aesthetics, but rather discovered them, as properties of heart/consciousness. I am not erudite and so I can’t say if these discoveries were made also by others—the Greeks, or Egyptians, or ancient Celts. But they are available to us now, and true in our poetry if they have been discovered anew by us; if by reading the old works, or if by reading the works of those who have grasped and embodied these aesthetics, we have felt an opening in our heart/consciousness to what was always present.

    Some of those qualities have names like yugen, nioi, wabi-sabi…. Perhaps where one of these qualities is realized in a poem, the others will be present also, but I tend to think this would be extremely rare. But it would not be rare for a reader to seek, or wish to experience one or more of them, and to feel thereby that he or she is in the presence of haiku.

    I think though, to grasp any of these qualities, one would have to have all his or her ears wide open—probably a thousand or more—and even then something else might have to happen which I don’t understand, but which probably comes close to intuition, or a deep bow… I don’t think the ears which are currently available to me are exactly those available to you, so we may hear things differently. Not necessarily dividedly.

    I write poems that some, if they wish, might call haiku. (I sometimes think that
    haiku, as poetry or “wordfield” is something very specific to Japan, in the way certain wines, growing in certain soils and slants of light, are specific to France, or Australia).
    There are a number of “reasons” I write these poems. One is simply that something in what I heard/felt/read many years ago found a deep place in me; that place invited me to stay a while. From there I found words. I don’t always write from that place. Maybe rarely. Sometimes greed or the need for validation propels me elsewhere, where the same words can be found, but they have been drinking from a different pool. They’re not entirely healthy.

    The invitation is not that I write haiku; it is that, by various means, I explore the mystery in the depths, the same depths that exist in a pine made gray-green by rain, when something vaguely red is present, then not. A short poem works well: it is insight/outsight before commentary grabs it by the heart/throat/balls.

    I think if someone feels any resonance with any of the qualities which the Japanese and others explored and worked with, those qualities, and some unnamed, will have a chance of being present in what he/she writes. For me, more than figuring out whether what I write is haiku or not, it is more significant to see if what I write has those qualities, or comes from that deep place. I don’t need to stay attached to history, though it is available for me to learn from. I find it more useful to say that haiku is a quality or layering of qualities than to say it is a poem, or a thing. Sometimes something I have written has– what shall I call it?– *haiku*.

    Is it wordless? Yes, but only to the extent that it is made of words.

  89. Having said this, on the other hand, does not mean that Basho’s following of the way of elegance (fuga-no-michi) was meant to explore the possiblities of poetic expression as we understand that in the West and in the modern era.
    It is true that for Basho the way of elegance was a way of life (kado, the way of poetry) that could lead to enlightenment.
    All we need do is look at some of the poetic terms he devised as he deepened his practice of the way: he included aware (sensitivity), furyu (a way of living that enhanced receptivity to the beauty, taste, and aesthetic appreciation of nature), mono no aware (sensitivity to things), and sabi (a melancholic feeling when one sees things as they are-ephemeral).
    And, it would be less than honest of me to not acknowledge that Buson, Issa, Chiyo-ni did not follow in Basho’s footsteps, though each in their own way.
    It is true that Shiki, confronted as he was at his time in history with the onslaught of Western influences in Japan, including Western art and poetry, did not alter what had been called hokku. An agnostic, it seems, he adopted the sketch from life as the haiku project as he deemed the lineage of linked poetry as obsolete and unable to be the basis for the long poems he encountered in Western examples of poetry. It is true that he retained some of the poetic principles and aesthetics of earlier generations of writers.
    However, haiku after Shiki took dramatic shifts and liberties and experimented with the form, I believe, in a way similar to the ways it did in the West in the 20th century.
    For me, this is most interesting and of most interest. I personally would not continue to write haiku (though I have to admit that I no longer write much), if it meant adherence to the aesthetics and rules of the earlier hokku. If I was seeking enlightenment, I would sit in meditation in a meditation hall and listen to dharma talks.

  90. I remember reading Blyth’s remarks cited above that “a haiku is not a poem, etc.” It was the reason I sold my hard-bound collection of Blyth’s works (not easy to come by in hardcover) about 10 years ago. I always sensed that Blyth’s commentary was not so much a commentary on the poems, but rather a tract that ran parallel to them. I was somewhat reluctant to sell the books, simply because of the value of the translations, but decided that Blyth’s ponderous and sometimes pompous tone and admonitions and premises were so boring that I could part with the whole.
    A Japanese scholar named Nobuyuki Yuasa translated Basho’s The Records of a Travel-Worn Satchel and here is some of that translation that demonstrates that contrary to Blyth’s opinion that hokku were not poems, Basho felt otherwise:

    In this mortal frame of mine which is made of a hundred
    bones and nine orfices there is something, and this
    something is called a wind-swept spirit for lack of a
    better name, for it is much like a thin drapery that is
    torn and swept away at the slightest stir of the wind.
    This something in me took to writing poetry years ago,
    merely to amuse itself at first, but finally making it
    its lifelong business. It must be admitted, however,
    that there were times when it sank into such dejection
    that it was almost ready to drop its pursuit, or again
    times when it was so puffed up with pride that it exulted
    in vain victories over the others. Indeed, ever since it
    began towrite poetry, it has never found peace with itself,
    always wavering between doubts of one kind and another. At
    one time it wanted to gain security by entering the service
    of a court, and at another it wished to measure the depth
    of its ignorance by trying to be a scholar, but it was
    prevented from either because of its unquenchable love of
    poetry. The fact is, it knows no other art than the art of
    writing poetry, and therefore, it hangs on to it more or
    less blindly.

  91. Lorin wrote,

    I doubt that Blyth ever said that a haiku is not a poem or that haiku/hokku are not poetry. I have shown an available-to-all source where Blyth clearly calls haiku poetry, and mentions Wordsworth, John Clare & two Chinese poets (also giving the names they are known by in Japan).

    I do not recall raising the issue here of whether haiku are or are not poetry (that is a subject that requires a good deal of explanation), but nonetheless I can supply a ready answer to Lorin’s doubt that “Blyth ever said a haiku is not a poem”:

    “A haiku is not a poem, it is not literature; it is a hand beckoning, a door half-opened, a mirror wiped clean. It is a way of returning to nature, to our moon nature, our cherry blossom nature, our falling leaf nature, in short, to our Buddha nature. It is a way in which the cold winter rain, the swallows of evening, even the very day in its hotness, and the length of the night become truly alive, share in our humanity, speak their own silent and expressive language.”

    R. H. Blyth, Haiku, volume 1, Eastern Culture, page 272.

    The problem Lorin has encountered here is the problem most modern people encounter in Blyth, because not only is Blyth really talking primarily about hokku ( not what people in the West today generally think of as “haiku”) but he is also speaking on the second and more profound of the two levels on which he speaks of hokku throughout his writings. That accounts for the seeming but not real contradiction that gave rise to Lorin’s doubt that Blyth ever said it (when of course he obviously did).

  92. In response to my question,

    “If one were to look at a page filled with — for example — three-line poems, how would one distinguish those that are simply “poems” from those that are specifically and clearly haiku poems? Can it in fact be done?”

    Sandra replied,

    “Yes, David, it can. I decide.

    You may not always agree with my decision, but there we are. Writing poetry is subjective, reading it is subjective. I’ve just finished judging a haiku contest – it was quite clear to me which ones were haiku and which were not. Another judge (or editor) may have another view.”

    The best Sandra can come up with is this equivalent of “I know, but I cannot tell you how I know, and others may not agree that I know.”

    To me this means simply that she has no objective criteria whatsoever by which one can distinguish a short verse that a haiku from another short verse that is a poem but not a haiku poem.

    Obviously, then, a haiku for Sandra does not exist in objective characteristics by which she could teach anyone else to distinguish a haiku from a non-haiku poem.

    Readers may recall the old high-school rule of thumb, “If you cannot explain it to someone else, you do not understand it.”

    Earlier I quoted Humpty-Dumpty’s lines from Through the Looking Glass. Let’s take a look at them again, with one slight modification:

    There’s haiku for you!’

    `I don’t know what you mean by “haiku,”‘ Alice said.

    Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. `Of course you don’t — till I tell you… When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, `it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

    `The question is,’ said Alice, `whether you can make words mean so many different things.'”

    `The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, `which is to be master – – that’s all.'”

    What Sandra is saying is that a haiku is NOT an identifiable poetic form. It is not a sonnet or a quatrain or a tercet or a couplet or a single stanza, but rather something that is beyond and cannot be defined by form.

    When one asks by what it CAN be defined that distinguishes it from any other poem in those forms, her response is that it is “subjective.”

    To me that simply means she picks those verses which appeal to her personally, and bestows on them the label “haiku” without any quantifiable, teachable means of doing so. In fact without any logical reason for doing so.

    And that is exactly what Humpty-Dumpty does by saying that in deciding what a word means, the matter is determined by what the user declares it to mean through whim and personal subjectivity, no matter how completely contrary that personal definition may be to accepted usage.

    One can get away with this hocus-pocus, perhaps, as a judge in a haiku contest, but one simply cannot get away with it as a teacher or a scholar.

    If one cannot come up with any legitimate, objective criteria by which a modern haiku can be distinguished from what is simply a modern poem of the same approximate length, then I would say there is no reason for using the term “haiku” at all in such cases — in fact I would say it is being misused and misapplied.

    If someone asks me what a hokku is, I can tell them precisely what it is by describing its form and aesthetics. These are the criteria by which one may then go on to distinguish a good hokku from what is simply an interesting or good short verse in three lines.

    If someone asks me what a haiku was for Shiki, who began it, I can do the same as I did for the hokku, using measures of form and aesthetics.

    It is only by knowing what a verse form is intended to be and do that one can take the further step into aesthetic determinations as to whether a verse is a good example of that poetic category.

    What Sandra is doing is essentially discarding all such objective measures; her criteria are then no different than those used by the novice antique buyer in the old cliché,

    “I don’t know anything about antiques, but I know what I like.”

    It would appear that Sandra similarly just knows what she likes, and for no obvious or definable reason applies the label “haiku” to it, willy-nilly.

    We can say with Alice, “but that’s not what haiku means,” only to have Sandra reply that it means whatever she wants it to mean.

    That is indeed stepping through the looking-glass.

  93. ” Anyway, as long as “wordless” is understood to mean extremely terse, imagistic, perspicuous, suggestive, “open”, not abstract, not ideas about the thing but a direct representation of the thing, it works on a figurative level–for me, at least.” – Allan

    yes, but the problem is it’s a specialised code, even if once we’ve learnt what it means (and the only way I’m learning is by what Michael, yourself and others are saying, ‘translating’ for me) I accept that’s what it means, but it’s anti-intuitive… and one might say ‘it’s too poetic’ 🙂 in the sense that it takes liberties with language. I imagine in it’s original context that was intentional and useful… fuddle the mind so we get beyond language…but if we’re talking *about* poetry, I wonder if we might choose clearer terms which don’t need so much translation (or imagination). Think of people coming into haiku who don’t have a background in the Eastern mysteries and who’d appreciate getting an idea of what haiku is as poetry without taking a course in Zen : they see ‘wordless poem’, it’s a contradiction, a paradox, their minds get caught in the paradox loop… they get the impression it’s beyond them and take up writing (and reading) ghazals instead… or else they don’t understand what it’s supposed to mean and adopt the ‘zennier-than-thou’ attitude of the poseur (don’t worry, Allan, I *know* you’re not one of those!)… the rest is silence until we can talk personally & privately about it…

    I find it of the order of ‘red is the new black’, I’m sorry to say, but a lot less accessible.

  94. ” As to Amann’s later “change of heart,” it’s unfortunate we don’t seem to have a more detailed firsthand record of that.”

    It would be accessible, if the statement he made, according to George Swede, at a public “haiku canada’ meeting was on the minutes of that meeting.

  95. “…one thing I’m not clear on is who (here, at least) has argued that haiku isn’t poetry?” – Allan

    In response to Chris, David wrote in his last post:

    “Let’s begin from that. You say haiku is poetry. I assume then, that you mean a haiku is a poem. ”

    David states that hokku is not a poem, on his blog site:

    ‘ We can say clearly and plainly, as did R. H. Blyth, what hokku is. It is not a poem, it is not literature. Instead, “it is a way of returning to our moon nature, our cherry blossom nature, our falling leaf nature, in short, to our Buddha nature.” ‘

    I doubt that Blyth ever said that a haiku is not a poem or that haiku/hokku are not poetry. I have shown an available-to-all source where Blyth clearly calls haiku poetry, and mentions Wordsworth, John Clare & two Chinese poets (also giving the names they are known by in Japan)

  96. Interesting post, Lorin–but one thing I’m not clear on is who (here, at least) has argued that haiku isn’t poetry? I don’t recall anyone ever saying it isn’t (but maybe I missed something?).

    Certainly, just to be clear, that’s not my position. I’ve only argued that a Buddhist cultural background (and not merely a Zen background) helped inform the angle of vision of classic haiku. (And you don’t seem to disagree with that.)

    Completely agreed that there’s no simple way of defining haiku in English. That was Harold Henderson’s non-dogmatic position also, expressed in a letter to Anita Virgil: “I did not make pronunciamentos–and do not want to make them now. In my opinion, [haiku] *must* be ‘what the poets make of them’ not verses that follow ‘rules’ set down by some ‘authority.’ So, in my opinion a strict ‘definition’ of haiku-in-English is neither possible nor desirable” (Haiku Path, pg. 47).

    It’s a vision of haiku that has suited the individualistic temperament of the English-speaking world.

    To be fair, Amann really developed “the wordless poem” concept, and he was definitely a serious haiku poet, even though he picked the phrase up from Watts, who was not. As to Amann’s later “change of heart,” it’s unfortunate we don’t seem to have a more detailed firsthand record of that. It’d be interesting, I’m sure, as he was a stimulating writer; but even if he changed his mind about certain matters, it doesn’t invalidate everything he wrote in The Wordless Poem. As far as I know, Amann has kept his distance from haiku since 1979.

    As for “wordless” itself, I find it to be evocative; it’s obviously not literal but a reminder of how different haiku poetics are from traditional Western poetics. Amann wrote, back in the day: “if we compare the haiku with most of Western poetry, we cannot escape the conclusion that the haiku poet seems to avoid words rather than display them.” But maybe at this late date we (in the West) have assimilated haiku aesthetics so thoroughly that we’ve lost sight of that distinction and of how radical haiku seemed (to us) at first?

    Anyway, as long as “wordless” is understood to mean extremely terse, imagistic, perspicuous, suggestive, “open”, not abstract, not ideas about the thing but a direct representation of the thing, it works on a figurative level–for me, at least.

    P.S. to Chris: You might possibly find it interesting that Amann cites Virgilio’s “lily” as an example of what he means by a “wordless” poem.

  97. Whilst haiku has been used by some people primarily as a ‘Way’, a spiritual discipline or part thereof, its origins were in poetry, whether the poems were written as a collaborative ‘game’ or by people who considered their ‘life path’ was to be a poet.

    Renga was a collaborative way of making a poem, haikai no renga, too. The hokku had a particular function in the renga, but was not always written on the spot. Collections of hokku were published as poems, as were waka.

    I agree with Chris, Whatever other purposes haiku has been put to or are being put to are secondary: it is still poetry. That Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote some brilliant sonnets (The Holy Sonnets, or Terrible Sonnets) that have their basis in a particular religious/spiritual doctrine does not make anyone else’s sonnets, written either before or after Hopkins invalid. Yes, I do see a parallel here, though GMH did not have enthusiastic followers who wanted to explain sonnets in terms of Hopkins’ religious views. Nor are Hopkins’ sonnets denied to be poems on any basis, certainly not on the basis that he was innovative with the form.

    Whether individual haiku are good, bad or in between poems is another thing. I also agree with Sandra: there is no simple way of defining haiku-in-English. Some Japanese say that haiku is a set form, and must be in 5-7-5 Japanese sound units and contain a kigo, which are a conventional seasonal references collected over hundreds of years. From what I can gather, the set form and use of kigo defines Japanese haiku…anything goes, beyond that.

    The EL haiku do not have a set form or dictionaries of kigo that are universally accepted by all EL speakers. How could it, when we are on different continents and spread across the two hemispheres? There are marks that distinguish EL haiku from other short poems in a tercet form or otherwise: it is easily distinguished from an aphorism, for example. There will be tentative and less tentative guidelines as to ‘what makes this a haiku?’, there might even be various groups disagreeing about what makes a haiku and what makes a good haiku, as there are with other kinds of poetry.

    Though its clear that Zen was a formative influence for Japanese culture, it was not the only one and one problem for EL haiku is that early C20 translators and enthusiasts delivered it to us in Zen wrappings. The legacy of that is apparent when such usages as ‘wordless poem’ and its progeny are still extant.

    Blyth, for all his enthusiasm for Zen, recognised haiku as poetry, found some things it had in common with some English poetry and distinguished it from ‘philosophy in verse’ or theory, that much is clear from his commentary on The Hsinhsinming (link on the viral 6.5 thread).

    “The “Hsinhsinming” then, is rather the basis for a theory of
    poetry, or the philosophic background, an expression of the
    implicit *raison d’etre* of the composition of certain kinds of
    poetry, like that of haiku, of Wordsworth and Clare, of Tao
    Chinnimg (Toenmei) and Po Chui (Hakukyoi). In explaining and
    illustrating the “Hsinhsinming” I have therefore quoted the poets
    rather than the religious writers. The poetry is the flower, the
    “Hsinhsinming” is the roots.”

    -an excerpt from: ZEN AND ZEN CLASSICS Volume One by R. H. Blyth

    (and nobody will say that John Clare knew anything about Buddhism, let alone Zen)

    Even Amman, quoted in Allan’s first post here, calls haiku poetry:

    “In summary, a haiku, in comparison with other poetry, is said to be ‘wordless’ inasmuch as the poet restricts himself to merely naming a few objects or sensations and allows the reader to respond to them directly. By avoiding subjective comment and unnecessary words he leaves the poem ‘open’ to the reader’s intuition….”

    But why are we still using confusing terms like ‘wordless poem’, originated by a Zen writer but *not* a haiku poet, when Eric Aman retracted the view he had in his ‘The Wordless Poem’?

    “…Eric Amann had by this time publicly (at Haiku Canada meetings) divorced himself from the idea of haiku as Zen and was embarrassed by the attention his old views still garnered.” – George Swede

    http://www.simplyhaiku.com/SHv4n3/reprints/Swede.html

    Angelee Deodar’s essay ‘Haiku Silence’, might also be relevant to this general discussion:

    http://www.simplyhaiku.com/SHv3n1/features/Angelee_Deodhar.html

    Is there another way (or are there other ways) of approaching the discussion of what is haiku and what makes for relatively poor and excellent haiku than by using these particular terms, ‘wordless poem’, ‘word-based/ image-based’?

  98. I’ve read all the comments and have tried to digest and understand them. Not sure if I do, but here are my thoughts.

    A “wordless poem,” as I understand the phrase when applied to haiku, means that more is left out than written, that the poet’s emotion when writing the poem is not expressed overtly but left to the reader to infer, that the image presented in words is done objectively and presented to the reader as is on the page, but will give the reader a possible link to his own experience.

    I think I am clear on what is meant by image based haiku, but I’m not so clear on what is meant by word-based haiku. If haiku is accepted as being a “wordless poem,” how then can a “good” haiku be word-based? Or is it a matter of degree? Do strictly word-based haiku tell rather than show? I would interpret the word-based haiku as being too subjective, one that states the emotion of the poet or one that is too laden with images which force the reader to come to the same emotional feeling that the poet had. Rather than choose another poet’s haiku as an example I wrote one of my own.

    graveside service
    mourners weep
    under the willow

    An editor would be right to reject this. It is too obvious what I expect the reader to feel. I think the following would take it out of being word-based. (not great, but I think a little better).

    graveside service
    mourners gather
    under the elm

    Adelaide

  99. sandra, I agree with you 100%. With any language, you learn as you speak it…you understand it as you speak it. Who is to tell you how to speak it? You will be judged by those who hear/read you…but in the final analysis…we write/create haiku by what we have learned….and by our subjective expression. It is a subjective enterprise totally.
    It can be judged objectively…but only by what has been learned. What is learned is often intuitive…and intuition is subjective.

  100. More seriously, I was beginning to understand from Lorin’s comments (I think) something of the nature of the wordless haiku.

    Here’s one by Martin Lucas from “Wing Beats”:
    “out of bracken a flick of pipit’s wings”

    But then I think in images and when I see the word “bracken” I see an image not a word…so I’m not sure if I understand…

    The more I think of Shiro, the more I’m beginning to think those haiku that come to us that we can’t find the words for (and I have this happen a lot) may be the only true wordless haiku…but that begs the question as to whether or not a haiku is a haiku if you can’t share it…???

  101. All of a sudden, after reading some of the comments, it came to me that Shiro in David Lanoue’s “Laughing Buddha” seems to have written the perfect “wordless” poem…”Also sitting on the poet-clogged verandah was Shiro, all in white. But he only imagined his poem. As always, he tastefully left the paper blank.”

  102. If one were to look at a page filled with — for example — three-line poems, how would one distinguish those that are simply “poems” from those that are specifically and clearly haiku poems? Can it in fact be done?

    Yes, David, it can. I decide.

    You may not always agree with my decision, but there we are. Writing poetry is subjective, reading it is subjective. I’ve just finished judging a haiku contest – it was quite clear to me which ones were haiku and which were not. Another judge (or editor) may have another view.

    Do we really need to have a final arbiter? And who would sit in that final judgement? And what do you do with those haiku that push the boundaries, “dance on the edge” as described in another forum on THF? And which English-speaking nation would get to lord over all the others and impose its “culture” on ELH?

    There are poets writing haiku in English in, for instance, Ghana, India, Wales, France, Sweden, Barbados, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Bulgaria. Each poet will have his/her own cultural allusions, social traditions and alternate languages on which to draw.

    Perhaps, instead of constantly looking back, we should think a little more about looking forward.

  103. Regarding my previous posting, keep in mind that I am speaking of modern haiku in English, which we can define for the sake of convenience as those written from the latter half of the 20th century to the present.

  104. Chris wrote:

    “It’s easy enough to list the hallmarks of haiku whenever I give a reading for folks not familiar with the genre.”

    And

    “I’ll just venture to say that first and foremost haiku is poetry. A form of literature. A art form.”

    Let’s begin from that. You say haiku is poetry. I assume then, that you mean a haiku is a poem.

    My question then would be, precisely how does a haiku as poem differ from any other kind of one, two, three, or four line poem that is not a haiku? What are the characteristics distinguishing one from the other?

    When, in short, does a verse cross the boundary from being a haiku into being simply a short poem? What, in fact, defines a haiku as distinct from any other short poem of roughly the same length?

    If one were to look at a page filled with — for example — three-line poems, how would one distinguish those that are simply “poems” from those that are specifically and clearly haiku poems? Can it in fact be done?

  105. PS- Needless to say, I’d be surprised if Basho and his contemporaries didn’t consider themselves as poets, whatever titles they chose for their resumes.

  106. David,
    It’s easy enough to list the hallmarks of haiku whenever I give a reading for folks not familiar with the genre. In this case, knowing how and why each hallmark will be shot down makes it feel a bit futile ; ) I’ll just venture to say that first and foremost haiku is poetry. A form of literature. A art form. If I couldn’t practice and share it as such– if it were ‘a way’ or a ‘little enlightenment’ then, no offense, but I wouldn’t have a lot of interest in it, and neither would anyone I’m reading for.

  107. This is an attempt to answer Peter’s original questions, as an exercise for myself if nothing else.

    Do you find this distinction between image-based and word-based haiku useful?
    As a tool for evaluating, yes.

    Do you have a preference, and why?
    The image-based quality of haiku is one of the things that appeals to me, in contrast to confessional poetry, say. Yet I still want to sense some point of view that informs the images, which pure shasei doesn’t often satisfy.

    Can you give us a haiku which for you exemplifies “the wordless poem” as you understand it?
    I see you’ve switched terms from “image-based” to “wordless” which makes this category even harder, if I only count poems I’m fond of and which offer a minimal point of view.

    an empty elevator
    opens
    closes (Jack Cain)

    Can you show us a “word-based” haiku which in your opinion “works” despite the fact or because of the fact that the words point to the author?

    bills paid
    the tiger lily
    past its prime (Roberta Beary)

    Word-based to the extent that the poem is self referential, but the author is a natural part of the scene. Somewhere in the middle of the image-based / word-based continuum, where most haiku would fall. All haiku actually, since the author needs to be present at least as an observer, and there have to be images being observed.

    And does a “word-based” haiku necessarily point to the author?
    It doesn’t have to “point to” in an overt way. The author’s POV can be sensed indirectly.

    Can you find one which doesn’t?

    dark darker
    too many stars
    too far

    It’s the lyrical quality (an exception that I happen to love in this case) that puts it on the word-based side of the continuum, yet the images are still concrete and it doesn’t point to the poet overtly.

  108. Just to hold my place here: I think David’s question, a few posts back, is of great significance. I want to think about it a bit before saying more.

  109. Thanks for that example, Chris.

    For me, the words “as deep as fear” push the chasm image away from “concrete” and into the realm of the intellect. I use the word concrete within the context of this discussion, however I think the term concrete is a misnomer when used to refer to a poetic image. I think the words of any poem (and I consider haiku poems) conjure all sorts of associations, images that might feel concrete to the reader, literary and cultural allusions, plays and puns on other words, words embedded in words with different meanings, melody and cadence and rhythm and obvious or disguised or almost rimes, whether we are aware of them (or want to be aware of them) or not.

  110. On reconsideration there are poems in the latest Acorn (#24) which could be seen as a “balance between” (as John describes Peggy’s bouquet piece) word/image-based. Like this piece of George Swede’s

    snorkeling
    a chasm as deep
    as fear

  111. Given the examples already presented in various postings here, I would very much like to know, from the participants or readers, precisely how (and why) they distinguish and differentiate a modern haiku from what is simply a modern “poem” in one, two, three or four lines — or if they even feel they can make such a distinction.

    Is there in fact an identifiable, quantifiable, explainable and meaningful difference?

  112. Now that the term “word-based” is clearer to me (I think) I’m hard pressed to find actual examples of it. I see none in the recent Acorn journal for instance, and the Higginson poem that John cited is one of the few that I could find in The Haiku Anthology. The clearest other example for me was Virgilio’s “lily: out of the water…out of itself.” And to some extent these two

    mirror my face where I left it
    (Boldman)

    The fleeing sandpiper’s
    turn about suddenly
    and chase back the sea!
    (Hackett)

    in that authors are adding a layer of commentary on the images.

    And of my own poems I’ve boiled it down to one or two, possibly, maybe.

    I’m guessing I could find avant-garde gendai examples, but that would require some certainty that I understood the poems : )

  113. … and, nothing new:

    “. . . ‘if you here require a practical rule of me, I will present you with this: ‘Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. *Murder your darlings*.’ ”

    Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (1863–1944). ‘On the Art of Writing’. 1916.

  114. …which all probably adds up to my liking the Basho-originated (?) term ‘karumi’ or, as I imagine it in English, ‘the light touch’ , leaving out what’s not essential, better than ‘wordless poem’.

  115. Jack, I didn’t think there was any of my free verse online! (and I’ve written very little of it over the past several years)

    However, I’m still mulling over what people are saying in regard to ‘wordless poem’, ‘image-based/ word-based’, trying to absorb and come to an understanding. But anyway:

    “First, do you find this distinction between image-based and word-based haiku useful?”

    I’m still not certain what is meant by the terms.

    “Do you have a preference, and why?”

    No preference until I’m clear in my mind about what the terms mean.

    “Can you give show us a haiku which for you exemplifies “the wordless poem” as you understand it.”

    No, because I understand the phrase, ‘the wordless poem’, to be a paradoxical conceit, linking haiku to what Blyth calls ‘The Four Statements of the Zen Sect’:

    1. No dependence on words and letters.
    2. A special transmission outside the Scriptures.
    3. Direct pointing to the soul of man.
    4. Seeing into one’s nature and the attainment of Buddhahood.

    I find that ‘wordless poem’ leads me away from haiku and how it might be working, what aesthetics and matters of style are involved, what my experience of any particular haiku might be, etc.

    “Can you show us a “word-based” haiku which in your opinion “works”, despite the fact or because of the fact that the words point to the author? And, does a “word-based” haiku necessarily point to the author? Can you find one which doesn’t?”

    Yikes! No, because I still haven’t understood these proposed ‘opposites’ of ‘word-based’ and ‘image-based’, though thanks to Michael’s patience, I think I’m beginning to get an idea of what people might mean by the terms. It seems to be in the area of authorial control, to what extent we, as writers, are willing to give up not only asserting opinion or stating conclusions in haiku, nor just to give up flamboyances of style or excesses of the ‘confessional’, but also to trust that readers have the ability to infer, can enter (via the text, the words, of course!) and experience the poem.

    I don’t know yet whether I’m on the right track or not, but the only thing I can find in the Muldoon ku (referred to in Viral 6.5) that might be objectionable is that the author doesn’t trust the reader to experience and complete the poem. Like a concerned father who holds a toddler’s hand overlong just in case the child wobbles and falls on his bottom, he (skillfully) supports the reader in finding what he wants us to find through the stag and wayside shrine images.

    I’m so happy that John Stevenson has quoted this haiku by Peggy Willis Lyles:

    I shake the vase—
    a bouquet of red roses
    finds its shape

    Is it ‘word-based’ or ‘image-based’? I can’t tell. Is the authorial presence intrusive, over-guiding or manipulating of the reader? No, definitely not. Someone or something does something. It doesn’t matter if it is he or she or I or an earthquake that shakes the vase (and as an aside, I prefer the simplicity and directness of ‘I shake the vase’ to the ‘let’s pretend nobody’s here’ type of construction, the subjectless ‘shaking the vase’, and also that this reader puts herself in the position of the (generic?) ‘I-of-the-poem’- I don’t for a moment read, ‘There’s that Peggy Willis Lyles shaking the vase.’). Someone does something and something happens. That something is not *made* to happen by the shaker of the vase. There is no flower arranging here, according to whatever guidelines of whatever school of flower arranging with it’s attendant philosophical and aesthetic guidelines or imperatives.

    What Peggy’s haiku shows is that a bouquet of roses finds its shape. No shape is directly imposed on it by the vase-shaker. This ku does make me smile. I am reminded we humans have often used ‘oracles’ to bypass or override personal will and get a different view to what we might arrive at consciously… tossing coins, throwing yarrow sticks to form a chance pattern, as was done with the I Ching.

    So we have here an image of what can happen when we let go of directing and controlling for a moment: we act and something forms itself into a shape, which we couldn’t foresee and isn’t influenced by our will or intention. But is this haiku ‘word-based’ or ‘image-based’? I can’t say that the image I arrive at is word-based or image-based, as the poem relies on two images (a vase being shaken and a bouquet of roses coming to rest in an unplanned shape) expressed through words. I can say that this is a poem which ‘trusts the reader’: we are not given the final shape the roses take in terms of anything outside of the poem, we are not given distracting narrative details about why the vase of roses is being shaken, we are not given an opinion or judgement. We are invited in, by two clear images, to make what we will of it, to complete its meaning ourselves.

  116. I like that John. Thanks. It’s caused me to smile for a second time in two days. Very,very rare for me.

  117. “Wordless poem” is hyperbole, right? On the order of “a thousand times no.”

    PS I tried to insert a wordless comment here but the software labeled that an “error” and wouldn’t accept it.

  118. A wordless poem does not exist,
    A paintless painting either;
    But thoughtless minds will still insist
    That birds be made of feathers.

  119. Chris:
    I’m glad you liked my discussion on reflexive poetics/art. I’ll look for better examples of such in haiku, if I can find any. For me, the method I prefer is association of inner/outer landscapes.
    One example, I wrote some years back:

    An overcast day-
    a crow peers out
    from my inner life

    I like to relate the emotional, psychological landscape to nature and am not at all satisfied with absorption in objects.
    My poem, you could say, does connote a correspondence of inner and outer: an overcast day, not a happy occurrence, brings out a bird-like image often associated with death, with carnage, with scavangers, etc. The overcast day and the mood are brought together (so I hope).

    Or, here’s one that may be more reflexive:

    Inside of me
    bison are stampeding
    across caves

    This one came to me while thinking about Joseph Campbell’s description of his visit to caves in France where early cave paintings were found of bison stampedes on the walls. He described the darkness of the cave as the womb of being, as the source of creation, and I could hear the thundering of the ten thousand things being born at that moment.
    I realized, that my mind was still that womb of being, the place from which all things emanate, and that creation was occurring inside me as much as it had in the beginning.
    I think the poem is reflexive, inasmuch, as it does not rely on description or naming of objects as its impetus; it does not attempt to be a transparent window to the world.
    So much said, I thank you again.

  120. Jack,

    I enjoyed your artist comparisons and thoughts on “self-reflexive” art, which I see as a subset of what’s being termed “word-based.”

    In wondering whether haiku can (or should) be self-reflexive I’m not sure what to make of your examples, and can’t think of any better examples related to structuralism (as Tom mentions), only playful examples like John Stevenson’s

    almost spring
    she tells the whole story
    in a single breath

    which gives a nod a wink to haiku without it interfering with the main experience.

    Everything is fair game as far as I’m concerned (or at least I try to remain open), be it image-based, word-based, reflexive, clever, ironic, wordful, wordless… But since I’m mainly interested in haiku as a means of sharing personally authentic moments (or explorations of inner and outer landscapes as you say) ultimately that’s what controls (as Michael says) what I choose to make use of or not.

    –––
    Tom, I didn’t find any reference to Barthes on your site but thanks for the link, the blog looks interesting.

  121. Lorin:
    I’ve read your free-verse poems online and I am very impressed with your writing. Perhaps it is not my place, but I would really like to hear from you on the issues involved in 11th Sailing.

  122. As often our discussions echo discussions in wider poetics. This discussion overlaps with the questions raised by structuralism about the author and language. See Barthes in Empire of Signs for starters, where he discusses haiku. We address this at haikumuse.com the blog. But another issue that belongs in this particular discussion is “intertextuality” and the “vertical” dimension: aren’t carefully controlled “verbal” allusions important to haiku?

  123. nothing is wordless, this cannot be acheived even within a genre as short as a haiku.

    i stuggled with haiku until nearly a decade ago, until Welch
    suggested to write “enough said.”

    Paul Miller’s “migrating whales,” is still my favorite haiku. My
    footprints washed away too.

  124. Several typos in my message, so I’m reposting:

    Over in Viral 6.5, Lorin Ford mentions that Muldoon’s poems often show him to have “a thumb on the scale.” I think that’s it. It’s not “wordless,” where the words disappear into the meaning they point to. Rather, we can see him being clever, so we think of him. To me, this is like the problem of a poet using “i” (lowercase) to refer to himself or herself. Rather than being humble, it points MORE strongly at the self, and even seems to suggest “look at how humble I am,” which is hardly humble at all. Does cleverness have its place in haiku? Sometimes, yes, but one should control when the poem is “wordless” (the words being utterly transparent) vs. when the poem if being “wordful” (deliberately playing with words).

    Michael

  125. Over in Viral 6.5, Lorin Ford mentions that Muldoon’s poems often show him to have “a thumb on the scale.” I think that’s it. It’s not “wordless,” where the words disappear into the meaning they point to. Rather, we can see him being clever, so we think of him. To me, this is like the problem of a poem using “i” (lowercase) to refer to himself or herself. Rather than being humble, it points MORE strongly at the self, and even seems to suggest “look at how humble I am,” which is hardly humble at all. Does cleverness have its place in haiku. Sometimes, yet, but one should control when the poem is “wordless” (the words being utterly transparent) vs. when the poem if being “wordful” (deliberately playing with words).

    Michael

  126. Perhaps I should clarify what I mean by word-based poems pointing to the author, as distinct from image-based poems pointing to the image or experience. By “pointing to the author,” I do not mean references to the self at all — not when the self in a poem is merely another object in the poem. Thus John’s example poem by Peggy Willis Lyles (“I shake the vase— / a bouquet of red roses / finds its shape”) seems not to be what I mean. I like Peggy’s poem very much. It points, among other things, to the “I” (the persona) in the poem, but the “I” is functioning as part of the image in the poem (as an actor acting the roses), and is being treated just as objectively as is the reference to the roses. No, that poem is not what I mean by word-based poems pointing to the author. On the other hand, I can see how a reference to the self is at least slightly closer to subjectivity than poems that have no self mentioned.

    What I mean by word-based is where the words showcase the author’s ego or cleverness with words (witness a lot of Paul Muldoon’s “haiku” or Wendy Cope or Richard Wilbur or some of Billy Collins). Alas, much pseudo-haiku is like this too, but I would hasten to add that there’s a world of difference between your run-of-the-mill pseudo-haiku (Haikus for Jews, Honku, Punku, and their ilk) and what Muldoon or Collins do. Indeed, word-based haiku tend to assert, and thus point to, the author’s ego, whereas image-based haiku tend to minimize the ego — which is NOT the same as minimizing references to the self. One can refer to the self in a haiku just as readily as one might refer to a rock or tree or chair. Remember Buson’s poem about the chill of stepping on his dead wife’s comb in their bedroom (which, I might add, was written when she was alive!).

    Some readers may wonder if this issue might be reframed as being a matter of subjectivity vs. objectivity. I used to say in my haiku workshops that haiku needed to avoid subjectivity. It didn’t take me long to correct that! Now I say that the poet needs to *control* subjectivity and objectivity, which makes all the difference — the right amount of subjectivity can be electric in a haiku (some of John Stevenson’s and Fay Aoyagi’s haiku are perfect in this regard — just the right touch of subjectivity). Yet it’s not true that word-based = subjective, and image-based = objective. There is indeed a continuum, and subjectivity can be good sometimes, but bad at other times. I tend to write mostly image-based haiku, and tend to feel frustrated at “haiku” like Muldoon’s because I think they’d work a lot better if we could see him conquer image-based haiku as well. Without that, it feels as if he doesn’t realize (!) that the predominant trajectory of haiku (in Japanese and English) is image-based (I do not mean to say that it excludes word-based poems, however). Anyway, as I’ve said elsewhere, Muldoon is using haiku for selfish purposes.

    I should add that surreal haiku (a la Ban’ya Natsuishi) or certain gendai-style haiku (a la Roadrunner) isn’t really what I’m talking about with this distinction between word-based and image-based haiku, although the surreal is closer on the continuum to word-based haiku than image-based haiku.

    One word-based poem that come to mind is the following by Mark Brooks, from The Heron’s Nest (June 2004), which is often thought of as being a journal for image-based haiku:

    Seuss’s birthday
    a dad and two lads plant
    a plant in a planter

    I think this clearly word-based poem works perfectly well. I talk about it at some length at http://sites.google.com/site/graceguts/essays/cultural-haiku (in an essay first published in Hermitage).

    Not sure if the following are word-based or image-based, but you might also want to consider my recent neon buddha poems (I’ve written more than a thousand of them in the last year). You can see a set in Roadrunner IX:2 (May 2009), at http://www.roadrunnerjournal.net/pages92/haiku92_revealed.htm, and also in the Winter 2010 issue of 3Lights, at http://www.scribd.com/doc/25298437/3LIGHTS-Winter-2010. Here’s are three samples:

    the neon buddha
    conjugates a verb
    well I’ll be

    rapture
    the neon buddha
    has nothing to declare

    garbage strike
    the neon buddha
    eats the rainbow

    What the hell are these poems? Well, they may not float everyone’s boat, but that’s okay with me. They are mostly a character going on adventures (sort of like the Travelocity garden gnome) — sometimes it’s me, sometimes it’s definitely not me. Some are funny, some are wordplay, some are deadly serious. Some are more surreal than others. Are these word-based poems? Oh, probably. Or are they simply surreal? Yet they have at least something that’s image-based in most of them.

    I guess my point is that there are good image-based haiku as well as bad ones, just as there can be good word-based haiku as well as bad ones. But that’s different from a) whether you happen to like something or not, and b) whether something is still a haiku or not. For me, Muldoon’s “haiku” are superb poems. Just not really haiku — they don’t hit enough of the targets I expect for real haiku (the 5-7-5 target brings them closer to pseudo-haiku, although we know they’re more than that). But then, I have to ask myself — are my neon buddha poems haiku? Maybe, maybe not. I’m okay either way.

    Michael

    P.S. I have forty more of my neon buddha poems coming out in the 2010 Jack Straw Anthology this week, which I’ll be reading from on Friday, May 14, in Seattle. See http://www.jackstraw.org/programs/writers/WritersForum/index.html. Wish me luck!

  127. Chris:
    For one: leaves blowing into a sentence (Bob Boldman). This haiku, while it contains an image points out that the image is a word and not to be confused with the thing and it is happening as you read the sentence, in the now, which is ironic to me,since he intentionally abides by conventional haiku rules while at the same time reflexively showing that they are not “real.”
    For two: though I’m not sure, it’s a great example, as it has enough grounding in impression to seem objective, still it is a reflexive poem with the author’s vision present and its language quite good, but not meant to be invisible, as in image-based haiku:
    here: The bird wants
    to become a black stone
    in the bosom of the moon (Ban’ya Natsuishi)
    Or third:
    I eat an oyster
    it is still
    dreaming (Etsushi Seki)
    or four:
    The wedding gown
    fit to the tailor’s dummy-
    her voice silent (Jack Galmitz)
    of five:
    milk crown–
    men in Oxford (Keiji Minato)

    Anyway, these are just examples, perhaps not so well chosen, of poems that are each reflexive in their way-certainly not meant to be “objective” or what is being called Image-based haiku. I don’t know that the alternative is word=based; I like to refer to the difference as reflexive.

  128. Well, Chris, I think I am talking about what John and you are talking about, but also something quite different, as well.
    I am talking about haiku that deliberately are self-reflexive, that rather than turn off the mechanisms of subjectivity, point to them, so that the reader realizes that are confronting a work of art, a construction, and this is done to point to the fact that reality is always contextual, always a construct; it may have multiple points of view, it may have divergent voices, it may make clear to the reader that they are reading, that a haiku or poem is not a transparent window to the world, but is made up of signifiers and not things.
    I’m afraid that I don’t have any ready examples, but for me this is the difference between image-based and word-based haiku.
    Just think, for example of Escher’s drawings; they are good examples of refexive art. Are they worse than Duhrer’s drawings? I don’t think so. The latter we call objective, realistic, image-based; the former are reflexive, word-based, if you will.
    Reflexive art aims to draw attention to the fact that objective, realistic arts are actually conventions only and therein lies the goal of much modernism and post-modernism. I would hate to be stuck with the Mona Lisa forever and never have seen a Picasso or Matisse nude or figure,or, for that matter, a Kandinsky abstraction, which he held were the spiritualization of art away from the figure.
    Give me a bit of time and let me see if I can find a good example of reflexive haiku: although you already have one in Gabi Greve’s post above.

  129. That’s very good Gabi. I’m smiling as I write this. And, for me, a full-faced genuine smile is rare. Very funny!
    Jack

  130. John, I see some overlap in your explanation and what I just attempted to say in my post to Jack. Thanks for the clarification.

  131. Jack, you’ve gone to some lengths to well-articulate what I’ve always taken as a given, that nothing we put to paper or canvas can be subjective-free. Nor would it be of any interest to anyone if we could. Yet the poetic conceit that makes haiku effective (or at least an aesthetic I get off on) is that the images appear to be stated objectively (even when the author is present in the scene), with the gears and levers of subjectivity off camera, or at least not obstructing the view.

  132. Chris,

    I realize I wasn’t being clear about Peggy’s poem.

    I was giving an example of a haiku that I believe works “despite the fact or because of the fact that the words point to the author.”

    But this is not the primary indicator of what I mean by “word-based” in contrast to “image-based.” To me, it’s more a matter of how the author seems to be placed in the poem. If I perceive the author as an integrated part of the picture, one of the images, the poem has a chance of registering as image-based. In my reading, Peggy’s poem does just this. If my sense of the author is of a creator who is placed beyond the plane of the poem, I tend to see the poem as a construction of words and, thus, word-based.

    Note that most haiku are arguabley both things. This is what I meant by the “flimsiness” of the distinction. But I do believe that some haiku lean strongly one way or the other. In my examples, I see the first poem as leaning toward image-based, the second one as balanced between (though clearly presenting the poet and her reaction), and the third as leaning toward word-based (even though the author is not directly depicted within the poem).

  133. John quoted Higginson:

    “Holding the water,
    held by it—
    the dark mud.”

    It would be interesting to know what this means to its various readers. It is definitely modern haiku, not hokku, not even the conservative haiku favored by Shiki. Instead it is haiku reinterpreted as modern poetry by 20th-century revisionists who remade the haiku in their own images — in this case as aphoristic verse. One can compare it to Virgilio’s similarly aphoristic

    “Lily:
    out of the water…
    out of itself.”

    I once did a survey of a large number of people, asking them to tell me precisely what this latter verse meant. There were almost as many widely-varying interpretations as there were people. That puts it very comfortably in the company of other similarly-obscure English-language poetry in the latter half of the 20th century, an obscurity that accounts in large part for the decline of public interest in poetry in the latter half of the century.

  134. John, not to attempt to finely slice anything but I was guessing the term ‘word-based’ was about the degree of abstraction/ideation (which would tend to reference the author), with the Higginson poem being a good example. Or something like

    horizon—
    why and
    why not

    So the bouquet example is throwing me off since the images are all concrete, with the only overt concept and subjectivity being what constitutes a good bouquet shape?

    I don’t have a strong preference between image-based and word-based (if my understanding is close) though I don’t often get much from pure shasei (which I take it would be in the image-based category).

  135. I’ll be as brief as possible on this subject, as I don’t want to engage in polemics, too much.
    One could say, inasmuch as haiku is a genre, that the closer one remains to the roots of the genre, the truer one remains to the genre. Assuming that Japanese haiku, like other Japanese art forms that were somewhat contemporaneous with it-ikebana, tea house ceremony, ink brush painting-were Zen-like, one could claim that qualities such as simplicity, asceticism, austerity, concentration, would be expected of a good haiku. It would be, as noted above, the aim of the poet to place as few words on the page as possible, and leave the rest in silence, so that more is implied than stated, more hidden than apparent. In this way, as noted above, the confusion between words and reality could be avoided.
    So far so good.
    Or is it?
    What I believe is contained in this view of haiku is a convention, or, in other words, a construction of a “real” that is deliberate, conscious, and fabricated. However few words are put on the page, however much we are given the mere hint of a poem, we are, as language operates, placed into forced observation (though it does allow for active engagement by the reader and some open participation in interpretation) and subconsciously influenced to believe we are experiencing a “real” and not a manipulated message of what is “real.” Perhaps, this is unavoidable,but I tend to think that the more supposedly simple and transparent the few wordless words of a haiku are, the more they premise a transparency of words and things. Yet, words, however minimally used, are not what they signify and I don’t think we can get to the “real” by a convention (a consensus that the few strokes contemplated by and in surrounding emptiness leads us to emptiness).
    I suppose for me, while I agree that there was a Zen-mind and influence operating in the origins of haiku, the original masters and their latter days descedents were primarily poets and their primary purpose was the writing of good poetry.
    I do not think there is a distinction worth noting between image-based and word-based haiku, as I do not think images, at least in writing, exist without words (whether few or many). The distinction, I take it, is in emphasis, that the more Intellectual the words, the less they simply refer to nouns/objects, the more self-referential or “poetically” their use in a haiku, the farther they are from the “real,” which is believed to reside in nouns and mostly in as few of them placed together as possible. Hence, “subjective” words and their evocations, reflexive use of words, point to the author and “objective” words point to the referents and, as I understood it, the latter are preferrable inasmuch as they adhere more closely to the convention of the genre. Indeed, poems of the first kind, word-based, are somehow inferior, game-plays, fun, but not possible of profundity as are image-based words. I’m afraid I no longer own Blyth’s four volume set on haiku, but you will recall that according to Blyth before Basho arrived on the scene, haiku or hokku were supposedly frivolous, filled with puns and lacked the seriousness and depth that Basho lent it (perhaps this was true). While this may have been true then, I think it would be a serious error to continue to evaluate haiku based upon Basho’s predecessors and link word-based haiku with them, rather than undertake the journey haiku took throughout the twentieth century.

    As an example of a haiku that I take to be exemplary of neither image-based or word-based haiku, but a profoundly moving one nonetheless I give you this:
    A baby swallow
    waiting for a thousand years
    to welcome an angel
    Ban’ya Natuishi

    Here’s one that could be said to contain a subjective, author based origin, yet it reaches out wonderfully and conveys the human love that the emptiness lacks:

    I care about you-
    does a star
    care about a star?
    Sayumi Kamakura

    Here’s another that has a strong authorial presence, and yet none at all:

    Thou shall enter by the gate
    Where the dog enters
    Koji Yasui

    Anyway, if I might be permitted a summation of what I promised would be a short post and a non-polemical one (can’t trust myself), I think that there is nothing wrong with the conventional writing of haiku and there is nothing wrong with the reflexive or word-based writing of haiku.
    Refexive aesthetics foreground their textuality thus reducing the transparency of their production. They do so intentionally, to undermine any transparency between signifier and referent. They are often anti-realist, and are so to show they are constructions.
    Certainly, there is room for many types of haiku. I don’t think one need value a single type to the exclusion of others.

  136. Eric Amann’s monograph The Wordless Poem: A Study of Zen in Haiku (1969, reprinted 1978) is, unfortunately, difficult to come by these days. So, I thought it might help the cause of this Sailing adventure to have, as context, some of Amann’s remarks on “wordlessness”. (The phrase “wordless poem” comes originally, though, from Alan Watts’ The Way of Zen.)

    “Just as the Japanese ink-brush artist tosses a few light strokes in one corner of the picture and leaves all the rest in emptiness, so the haiku master puts down a few simple words and leaves the rest in silence. More is implied than stated, more hidden than apparent. A haiku is no more than a hint, a bare suggestion of a poem.”

    “The whole purpose, therefore, of the technique of ‘wordlessness’ and ‘direct pointing’ as we find it in both Zen and haiku, is to avoid this confusion between words and realities and the consequent illusion of the separateness of things.”

    “In summary, a haiku, in comparison with other poetry, is said to be ‘wordless’ inasmuch as the poet restricts himself to merely naming a few objects or sensations and allows the reader to respond to them directly. By avoiding subjective comment and unnecessary words he leaves the poem ‘open’ to the reader’s intuition….”

    Those seem to be three key statements from Amann’s discussion.

    I think of “wordlessness” as a property of the genre, common to virtually all haiku, although the degree may vary, and there is always the possibility of playing against type.

    An extreme ex. that comes to mind is some of the work of Bob Boldman, such as:

    face wrapping a champagne glass

    The ku by Cor van den Heuvel that John Stevenson cites is another example–minimalist even by haiku standards. But by comparison with other types of poetry, I would say that virtually all successful haiku are “wordless” in Amann’s sense of being made of few words, suggestive, and “open”.

  137. Peter,

    Hoping to be cooperative before the conversation goes somewhere completely different; here are my answers to you questions, as you have posed them:

    Do you find this distinction between image-based and word-based haiku useful?

    Yes, I do find it somewhat useful. Before we start slicing it so finely as to reveal its ultimate flimsiness, I’d just like to say that I find this to be one way to, provisionally, tell one haiku from another.

    Do you have a preference, and why?

    In my own work, I have a preference for the image-based approach. This is because the word-based approach comes more easily to me. The opposite of what I do most often is rarer and therefore more valued.

    In reading the work of others, I don’t care unless the word-based approach, which for me results in making the poet visible, makes the poet visible in such a light that I don’t like him or her.

    Can you give us a haiku which for you exemplifies “the wordless poem” as you understand it?

    the shadow in the folded napkin
    Cor van den Heuvel

    While the poet has clearly directed my attention to this detail of daily life, he has given me no clue as to how I should respond to it, if at all. This leaves me with the thing itself and leaves me free to experience it just as I would, had it been my own inspiration.

    Can you show us a “word-based” haiku which in your opinion “works” despite the fact or because of the fact that the words point to the author?

    I shake the vase—
    a bouquet of red roses
    finds its shape
    Peggy Willis Lyles

    The author is clearly in the picture and it seems to me easy enough to guess what her feelings might be at this moment and even easier to share some version of them.

    Perhaps “point to the author” is not quite what is happening here. This poem seems more to offer a point of view from right next to her or just behind her, with the attention directed to the roses. But for me the author and her emotional presence are clearly elements of this poem.

    And does a “word-based” haiku necessarily point to the author?

    It might render the author visible in an overt way (as with Peggy’s poem above) or it might, by being overtly technical or otherwise visible in its “poem making,” bring the writer to mind.

    Can you find one which doesn’t?

    Here is what I would consider an example of a word-based haiku that “works” and does not overtly refer to the author:

    Holding the water,
    held by it—
    the dark mud.
    William J. Higginson

    I love this one and I know a lot of others do, too. While there is no overt mention of or direct image of the poet, I find myself in the presence of a mind the instant that I read this. Much more than in the presence of water or mud.

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