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13th Sailing: What’s Your Edge?

Sails is a section is devoted to presenting questions for discussion and debate on the nature and possibilities of haiku.



. . . 13th Sailing . . .


BY Peter Yovu


Readers: I initially, mistakenly, posted an earlier version of Peter Yovu’s text for Sailing 13. I’ve now updated it with the text that was intended to be shared. My apologies for any confusion. -SM


What’s Your Edge?


coughing even: alone

—Ozaki Hosai


the sack of kittens
sinking in the icy creek,
increases the cold

—Nicholas Virgilio


of assault

—Michael McClure


It doesn’t seem likely that very many writers would say, “When it comes to haiku, I tend to play it safe”. “Playing it safe” will mean different things to different people, but could mean such things as adhering to rules or format, writing for publication or for approval, or staying within one’s “comfort zone”. It implies a narrow sense of what haiku may be, and who would wish to admit to that? And yet how many writers would say, “When it comes to haiku, I like to play my edge”?

“Playing one’s edge” implies a willingness to go to the place where the familiar begins to crumble; where comfort is challenged. I watched a young child—maybe two years old—at the airport one day. She was running with great glee from her mother, who stood watching—farther and farther until she had to stop, look back, and return to her mother’s arms with equal glee. She did this over and over, each time a step farther. She was playing her edge—a developmental necessity for a child. Eventually, and perhaps with the help of a father or father-figure, she would take the next step, and not need to run back to her mother quite so quickly, but go out to explore the world and its many discomforts.

How do you relate—when it comes to haiku—to this idea of “playing the edge”? What does it mean to you, personally? Can you identify your edge, and are you drawn to it?

Please post examples of your own or others’ work which you feel tests the limits, the rules, or formulae of haiku.

I’m lacing up my skates. See you online.







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This Post Has 63 Comments

  1. There are many kinds of danger… and the depths of life are understood most keenly when the focus is on what tears it apart. While agree with Alan about war dangers…I certainly followed some of those writers with the helpless horror of someone not being able to do anything about it. But I’ve also walked with an old friend who had endured cancer, survived, buried a daughter to an auto accident, and now has learned that her son has committed suicide. If you met her you’d never imagine she had endured such trauma… but I have walked with many who walk through the valley of the shadow… Most of the times when it is that deep…there are no words…no art… there is just the waiting. Art may come later.

  2. A few of the Croatian war haiku:

    a fallen soldier
    how loud the ticking
    of the watch

    Enes Kisevic

    a cloud of dust
    takes away the house with it
    leaving the scream behind

    Davor Cevanic

    a foot in the mud
    and under it
    an autumn oak leaf

    Vesna Skocir

    New Year’s Day
    tracer bullets go out
    in the cold sky

    Tomislav Maretic

    a chilly day
    the dog and I both trembling
    caught by the attack

    Ante Ticic

    the doll’s eyes
    blown out by a mine
    replaced with sweets

    Mirko Vidovic

    the wounded cow
    suckles her calf
    with red milk

    Mirko Vidovic

    baking in the oven
    for a stray dog-
    an old man’s brain

    Mirko Vidovic

    Thanks to Vladimir Devidé for enabling Croatian people the voice, and ability to pen a quick poem during these horrific conflicts:

  3. Peter,

    “A quote from Rilke: No great art has ever been made without the artist having known danger. Can you relate to this?” – Peter

    I think art is communication. You can pick a “safe” topic or a difficult one, you can find unique ways to express yourself or pick a traditional standard. In the end, all the matters, I believe, is did you successfully communicate your idea to the other person.

    Some feel that an artist must suffer or be insane (on some level) to be a genius. I don’t subscribe to this.

    I’m intrigued by this quote though and wonder at the context. I wouldn’t agree with it on the level of needing to experience physical or emotional danger, but I think all artists do experience a sense of danger when they let their art go into the world, or as you discuss in this article, they try new things and expand outside their comfort zone.

    On that level I agree. Many people don’t share their art because they are afraid of rejection. They also hesitate to take new steps for fear that their work might be rejected. It is always good to stretch yourself. I find it is the only way to really learn.

  4. Christmas week–
    even the drunk’s vomit
    in holiday colors!

    co-authored by Larry Bole & Judy Walter, 12/21/10

    We saw the young man hurling at mid-day near a major intersection in our local city shopping district, in front of a very large, glass-fronted flower shop! We assume he must have drunk a lot of red wine!

  5. Hi Peter

    If you ask a Croatian poet or anyone else who survived the break up of the former Yugoslavia, and also survived NATO attacks, you’ll find many who wrote compelling haiku about red snow, dead soldiers and civilians piling up on pavements etc…

    For myself I’ve faced many non-war situations where I could have been killed.

    I think anyone living in a city has faced death because of riot or general city centre violence.

    Besides the usual danger of living in a city there are often dangers.

    I rarely write about the dangers myself but I’m sure it gives an edge and urgency to not something quickly.

    I heartily recommend anyone to read Croatian war haiku which does not glorify conflict but captures the everyday risk to life that many writers rarely experience.

  6. A quote from Rilke:

    No great art has ever been made without the artist having known danger.

    Can you relate to this?

  7. Coming late to this interesting subject… I agree with Peter Yovu’s, ” allowing mystery to be what and as it is”. This would be my description of edge : intimation with just enough to give the fragrance and plenty of ‘dreaming room’ (as it has been called.) Sometimes a haiku will be dismissed or overlooked because of its light touch. As Paul Simon says, “every generation throws a hero up the pop charts”. Haiku is no different. It can been seen through its history with changing taste. Do I try to write with an edge? No, because I also believe this is an imaginary line. But I do try to say the most with the least , not just word economy, (which often can be annoyingly staccato), but also in setting the scene. You can see how this definition of edge is entirely fluid. This edge asks the reader to participate, to complete the connection. Some examples for me, are oft quoted:


    without knowing what for 

    autumn colors
    john stevenson

    temperature drop –
    the way stars are
    a witness
    gary hotham

    a little inn
    with a swinging sign board …
    the evening chill
    michael mcclintock

  8. I like what Jack and Lorin have added to this conversation. I’m reminded of a poem by Juan Ramon Jimenez:

    I have a feeling that my boat
    has struck, down there in the depths,
    against a great thing.
    And nothing
    happens! Nothing…Silence…Waves…

    –Nothing happens? Or has everything happened,
    and are we standing now, quietly, in the new life?

    What is implied here is that one has to leave the safety of land to experience this. I am of the view that art and creativity do not come from one’s strength and confidence, but from one’s weakness, from what one has not, for numerous possible reasons, developed. It does not emerge, in other words, from what one *can* do, but from what one *cannot* do.

    In this context, an edge I come up against is allowing mystery to be what and as it is, which probably means not inserting myself too quickly into awareness. It also may mean letting things speak for themselves, not reifying my experience. Burnell Lippy is someone who has done this, I feel.

    squash vines
    long and hollow
    the last late evenings

    This may not come across as a poem with edge, or bite, or sting, but it does have a certain ache, and calls to something not fully realized in me. I feel the ache in my heart, and the challenge in my gut.

    The challenge is not only to make oneself available to deep feeling, but also to make oneself available to the genius of language. What is the writer, or artist’s role in this? Maybe “getting out of one’s way”, which may entail exhausting effort, coming to the end of one’s rope, the one knotted to an anchor.

  9. Jack, thank you for your thoughtful posts, and yes that ‘place’ where there is a recognition that there were boundaries or edges one hadn’t been aware of, but they are somehow permeable at the ‘right’ time ( ‘right’ because whenever that happens it all just seems right) come, for me, inexplicably but only when I’m working on writing a poem anyway.

    And you’re right, of course, these moments come after learning a lot and the sheer sweat of application to the task, often unsatisfying application too, where one is bored and stumped.The truism that 90% of success in *anything* is due to just showing up applies to this as much as to anything: it can’t happen if one’s not there for it to happen.

    I’d really be interested to read the Ban’ya Natsuishi article you have in mind! Thanks for your gracious offer. (I’ll contact you privately about it)

  10. Jack,

    That is really a very generous offer, can I take you up on that?

    Jack said:
    “Ban’ya Natsuishi wrote an interesting article about this subject in light of Basho’s development as a poet from his beginnings in the Danrin School to his mature periods. I’m afraid the address was given at Meiji University and is not on line. If anyone cares to see it, I can post it to them.”

    I met Ban’ya back in 1997 as part of a joint European venture with Eurostar, and have long admired his own ‘shaking up’ of haiku.

    Please do contact me for any other information, but in the meantime my address can be found at:

    Again, this is very generous of you.

    all my best,


  11. I would or should add that a writer does not arrive at a mature period in their work, where they can become artless, edgeless, without first having gone through a long tutelage,a long period of practicing, borrowing, learning rhetorical, poetic skills. Perhaps, this goes without saying, but I don’t think it hurts to say it again. I remember when I was young I thought that “spontaneity” was the goal in art and in all things; it was only after much failure in life and in art that I learned that first one must learn before anything resembling “spontaneity” can come to exist.
    Ban’ya Natsuishi wrote an interesting article about this subject in light of Basho’s development as a poet from his beginnings in the Danrin School to his mature periods. I’m afraid the address was given at Meiji University and is not on line. If anyone cares to see it, I can post it to them.

  12. Lorin:
    I like the way you’ve put it: you’re right, the edges actually are what we consciously conceive as our limits, our structures, or the structures, constructions of others; all the things we’ve inherited, learned, copied, etc.
    I think you’re right that writing “outside” or “beyond” the edge has nothing to do with form or subject, but is actually when we write effortlessly, artlessly from ourselves and sometimes the crystallizations that form amaze us, as if they weren’t written by us.
    And, I find this has only happened a few times in all the years that I have been writing, but those poems are the only really important ones.
    Most poems/haiku, say the samples above, we admire or not based on their artfullness. But none, I think, are artless and in that sense we can say that no matter how much a haiku poem diverges from conventional construction, so long as it is consciously produced, it is merely creating different edges.
    But those haiku poems that just come out complete and yet evidence a gestalt, wow, those are haiku. I think people respond to them, too, differently; they immediately feel the genuiness, simplicity of them. I think they even go beyond what Basho was talking about in his last period of simplicity and lightness of touch, because after all that was still a “writer’s” way of constructing, not a edgeless way.

  13. Peter, I find it difficult to talk about ‘the edge’ as I find it, because it isn’t about edgy subjects or edgy style or learning the confidence to exploring further as in your analogy of the little girl at the airport.

    I can’t will it and I don’t ‘enter’ it often. . . far from it!. . . but knowing it’s there and can ‘happen’ is why I write poems at all. It’s not even really an edge, because having ‘passed over’ it, it’s not ‘there’. So sometimes I call it ‘the interface’: one is oneself and yet one’s edges are gone. It only *seems* that one has crossed over to ‘somewhere else’ or has access to something else or something ‘more’, one hasn’t really, but there is recognition that ‘edges’ are permeable.

    This sounds awfully woolly, I know, but it’s wonderful to write from ‘there’, even just a few words now and then, because that’s when the right words just come or a revision one’s been trying to do suddenly constellates. I suspect that the great writers just experience this more often. . . this ‘loss of edges’ which isn’t at all vague or woolly or floaty, but clear.

    Maybe it just comes down to that sometimes we can just stop getting in our own way? ( so to speak) That’s not something that can be willed, though, it seems to me.

  14. Thanks for bringing out these poems from Roadrunner.
    Here’s what Mr. Gurga himself wrote when choosing the “Scorpion Prize” for issue VII/3:

    It seems that, in keeping with its name, the Scorpion Prize ought to be awarded to a poem with a little sting. A poem that focuses the mind in the way an encounter with a scorpion would. Such poems are unfortunately uncommon, combining a keenness of perception with a sharpness of expression along with a turn that, like the flick of a tail, makes us flinch.

    In other words, poems with edge. When I write something that fits this description, I will send it to Roadrunner.

  15. vows jump their past-perfect membranes eastertide
    Susan Diridoni (roadrunner X: 3, Oct. 2010)

    prunes and apricots in terms of feminism
    Lee Gurga (roadrunner X: 3, Oct. 2010)

    When I think of edges I think of the journal “roadrunner.” Reading an issue is equivalent to an afternoon of looking at modern art. Both experiences deliver wonderful surprises. The two ku I picked are particular gems. In Susan’s ku I’m drawn to the words “vows” and “membranes.” There is an arc between them about permeability. How does that impact the experience of Easter? It is kinetic. I can read this ku over and over and marvel at it.

    When I first read Lee’s ku I thought about the interspecific crosses of plums and apricots: pluot, plumcot, and aprium. In hybrid crosses these two fruits there is a range of phenotypes based on genotype percentages. How could that possibly relate to feminism? Young women today don’t think about feminism and what has lead to the cultural climate of equality. Older woman remember the fight and some continue to hoist the banner. Lee uses prunes and not plums which further separates the fruit into past-ripe and ripe, irrelevant versus pertinent.

  16. Re: “Just as writers have varied reasons for writing, often unclear, so there will be different reasons to publish, or different impulses, needs, reactions—often unclear.”
    — Peter Yovu

    Unclear to whom, please?

  17. Is there an “edge” that relates to publication? I believe there is.

    Just as writers have varied reasons for writing, often unclear, so there will be different reasons to publish, or different impulses, needs, reactions—often unclear. I personally cannot say with certainty that what I write does not go through an inner, and unconscious, editorial process that directs what I have internalized as “publishable”. Part of the impulse to publish is to please, get recognition, praise and acceptance. Even, it seems to me, the impulse to “share” partakes of this. It may be less or more so for different writers.

    But if publication is considered in the broadest sense as showing one’s work to another, there is another approach, which recognizes the erotic nature of the creative act, that it does not happen in isolation, that it happens in relation to an Other, sometimes an actual person or persons, sometimes to an idealized figure.

    As was noted earlier on this blog, Emily Dickinson famously wrote: “Publication — is the Auction/ Of the Mind of Man –”
    but as I recall, she also wrote to her sister-in-law “I want to be good for you”, meaning that, to some extent, she had Susan Gilbert in mind and heart when she wrote. I could not say whether ED wrote out of an impulse to be loved, or whether Love was its own impulse. No doubt both.

    So there is the edge: writing for love (praise, recognition, fame…) or from Love, which may be characterized as the creative spirit needing to express itself, to show itself, beyond, but not pushing away, personal need.

    If one’s edge is the place where one begins to feel discomfort (even the discomfort of excitement) then, as it relates to publication, how would that be described? For some, it’s the leap to showing one’s work at all, or to a “prestigious” magazine. But the edge may come with how one conceives of what one is doing, and the challenges to that. To use the analogy of photography, is one sharing snapshots with family and friends? or, at the other end of the spectrum, is one engaging with *art*, which for me means subjecting oneself to transformation and finding the means of expressing/exploring it. Is that an edge one is willing to approach? Or be approached by?

  18. John’s point is, of course, well taken and I agree. After creation, choose your market. I do agree with Lorin, too… herself now a successful haiku editor. As we get far off topic, I’ll note another factor. A fine poet such as Lorin might send “me” a list of 10-20 haiku. The Nest takes usually only one, if any, and at most two. Most of the rest of such a submission are also fine poems. Most will find a home as Lorin indicates. My original intent was to underscore the composition with the intent to shock, to be on or ever the edge deliberately. I personally consider most any topic fair game, just to do it with subtlety. “My” dead bear had a black eyecolor in life, and death, but soon the flies and vultures, also black. Do I wish to write of the vultures’ featherless heads covered in blood, ripping and tearing at entrails, chasing each other away, hopping in macabre ballet to the roadside? I’d rather let the reader make those extensions of the wild-flower actual name… which is also the mid-summer kigo.

  19. “Victor rises another point worth of discussion.

    Is a haiku only worth mentioning when it is found in a magazine/publication (and has gone through the hands of an editor)
    in our modern online times, can a haiku be “published” on a personal blog, on facebook or twitter and thus be accepted and available to the public, without the need to “tune it down”…” – Gabi

    Let’s not get any notion of ‘the need to tune it down’ confused with the difference between self-publishing and having one’s work accepted & published by someone else.

    I think that there are a variety of journals which publish English- language haiku and ‘haiku-like’ poems.Some only publish haiku and not senryu, some don’t draw too fine a distinction. Some publish haiku in one line form, some don’t. Some prefer more ‘avant-guarde’ ku than others. There are varying emphases on the sound qualities of haiku-in-English, etc. …in other words, there is probably at least one publication outlet for all of us.

    If I think something I write has merit, yet it is rejected by several editors, I do look at it again and consider that perhaps the flaw might be in my poem. . .not in the ‘subject’ or ‘topic’, but in the execution. (This gets easier the longer period that elapses between the writing and the reconsideration…:-) since I usually think the latest thing I’ve written is utterly wonderful… at least for a little while. I don’t think I’m peculiar in this, judging from poets I’ve known personally…not haiku poets, but still.)

    To me, the difference between haiku which have been published in a journal and haiku that one has published oneself is that it has been considered worth publishing by someone *other than myself*, someone, then, who is familiar with other contemporary work and is likely to be more objective about my work than I am.

    That said, there’s no reason why anyone shouldn’t self-publish if they want to or if they feel their work is of merit but the available editors are prejudiced or are unable to appreciate one’s genius. Emily Dickenson was not published whilst she lived, and she is certainly recognised now as one of America’s all-time great poets. Who knows? If ‘facebook’ had been available to her, she might’ve given it a burl 🙂

  20. lovers’ cliff
    a torn scarf totters
    near the water’s edge

    Notes From the Gean
    Vol. 2, Issue 1, June 2010

    “One recent example is my poem about a high cliff which locals call suicide cliff due to the number of persons committing suicide by jumping from it. So instead of using suicide cliff, I changed the words to lovers’ cliff which sure enough got it published.”

    Nope, Victor 🙂

    Nothing to do with the ‘topic’ or taboo subject matter. If it had’ve been ‘suicide cliff’ (or even ‘lovers’ leap) I’d have thought this ku a tad too obvious…. ‘telly’, as we are sometimes wont to say. As it is published, it’s up to the reader to infer what significance that torn scarf might have. You could say it was the fact that the authorial voice isn’t overly directive that got it published.

    – Lorin

  21. Thank you Paul, that was the haiku he sent, so sadly prescient:

    uncomfortable —
    body armor shifting
    on the car seat

    Kylan Jones-Huffman

    Paul said: “…perhaps he was an exemplar of a warrior.”

    Yes, he was, an amazing young man, and we are the poorer for his loss to the world.


  22. “I do not sit down and say… Will George, Charlie, or Carolyn (3 haiku editors) like it better this way or that way?”

    Nor do I. But don’t you think that there is a place for these considerations after the writing? We encourage people to familiarize themselves with the work published by our journals before submitting. It saves everyone some time and aggravation. One generally submits his or her haiku to a haiku journal rather than, for instance, The Wallace Stevens Journal. And among haiku journals, one might submit one set of poems to, say, Roadrunner and another to Acorn. This doesn’t seem egotistical. If anything, it seems considerate.

    The fact that we often know the editors (George, Charlie, Carolyn) might seem somehow improper but I think it’s just part of being a working writer. I know the editor of The Wallace Stevens Journal, too, as a result of submitting my work there. Haiku is not that different, although it is, truly, a much smaller “pond.”

  23. I didn’t “Speak” at enough length about my comment on writing to get published. Certainly didn’t mean you, Victor, or anyone personally. I agree with Chris, too. A purpose of haiku is the expression, the sharing. A book or Journal is a good way. Haiku can be memorialized in Archives that way. But, no, I was referring to a type of writer, often a haiku-fiction writer, who wishes to win at all costs, contests and Journal acceptances. Just speaking personally, I write to try to perfect the sharing of haiku experience. I do not sit down and say… Will George, Charlie, or Carolyn (3 haiku editors) like it better this way or that way?

  24. Alan,


    The last haiku he sent me is shown as above. The “gaunt children” haiku is the last we published. I believe it a great haiku, a modern classic. The bayonets are laid out in an old blanket easily rolled up when leaving the roadside is necessary.
    The implication of war upon war in the same place is obvious. The last line has a vertical axis, culturally. Think of Noel Coward’s song (from Kipling ?? anyone know) — mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noonday sun.

    I knew Kylan, had met him. We had personal correspondence and I was also his editor. He was a most interesting young officer, a quite unique “Renaissance Man,” and a fine person. Loved his country and his wife. Kylan was a graduate of the US Naval Academy — a most rigorous education — and he taught there after his active service aboard ship. He was a historian and was admitted for his doctorate in same for after his service in the Middle East. At the time of his death, he was living in Bahrain. Kylan spoke and wrote Farsi, something he studied and mastered, a poet in that language too. He was a professional military man, a naturalist, studied the Japanese Art of the Bow, several hand-to-hand arts, and haiku. Yet, a modest man not full of himself. He loved life; was anything but a stereotypical soldier. Or, speaking more carefully, perhaps he was an exemplar of a warrior. Just me speaking, but if he had been out of the car, where he was shot in full uniform, the assassin wouldn’t have stood a chance.

    He had the “eye” for haiku. – Paul

  25. Paul, do you remember a haiku from the late Naval Lieutenant Kylan Jones-Huffman that he made about machine gun only two or three days before he was machined-gunned to death in a city side street, in a civilian type saloon car in Iraq?

    He posted it in a haiku discussion site, but I never thought it would happen to him.

    He was a true hero, re-inlisting to literally rebuild bridges. A generally decent man who had much to give to the haiku community and helping Iraqis after the aftermath. I miss him deeply.


  26. (Make that ‘senryu’ and ‘with’ other people)

    I also notice that the incorporation of seasons and nature can go a long way in providing a sense of opening (certainly not always or exclusively). Are there any man-made objects that could possibly substitute for “stars” at the end of McClure’s poem above that wouldn’t close instead of opening the piece?

  27. “Most writers do not write, I think, in order to be published…certainly some egoists do, but…”

    I am a retired librarian, and part of our job was to document the published works of an author. If he or she is not published, no way would they be in a bibliography and many people would not know what they wrote. Maybe in this Internet age, it will come to fruition, but not in a little while. Btw, I hope I am not included in those “some egoists.”

  28. I’ve observed, and heard others observe over the years, that haiku creates an opening (whereas senyru tends to close). I’d be hard pressed to define or describe what that is exactly, yet when I read the examples posted here, certain poems clearly open for me, while others close. I’d rather not say which do what (lest I offend anyone) but it seems to be an important characteristic of haiku that I don’t recall seeing any discussion about on this forum yet? It’s all well and good to “play the edge” of subject matter and form but it still has to do what haiku does, including this business of opening, whatever that’s about.

  29. “Regardless of topic, I think subtlety is a hallmark of “haiku” or at least successful haiku.” -Paul

    I happen the agree with this, that it’s not just a matter of personal preference regarding subject matter, or what kind of work journals are willing to accept, but rather what the genre is capable of. Otherwise I, for one, would be expressing a whole range of things with haiku that I haven’t yet found a way to do successfully.

    “I hope haiku writers do not write just to be published.”

    Paul, I take your point (since you include the word “just’), but an important part of art is being able to share with it other people (or at least one other person). It would have little satisfaction or meaning for me without that.

  30. Topics taboo? Hard to conceive of one. Haiku is about what is, as Old Basho is quoted, happening at this place at this time.
    I quoted one of my haiku that stretched my own edge of topics… a dead (black) in the wildflowers/weeds at the edge of a road. Killed by the traffic. Big animals 350-400 pounds, but ill-equipped by their genetics to contend with several tons of metal moving at 60 mph. I find it tragic, and I may have stated it too baldly. Regardless of topic, I think subtlety is a hallmark of “haiku” or at least successful haiku. Lots of war poems, but one of the most chilling, most anti-war statements I know is one from The Heron’s Nest in 2003, by the late Naval Lieutenant Kylan Jones-Huffman:

    gaunt children
    selling old bayonets —
    noonday sun

    Kylan was shot and killed in the souk later that year.

    Subtle reference to war and culture. Basho had horses pissing… classic poems of lice/vermin, etc.

    If a snowbank melts and reveals dog turds, or beer bottles, or condoms? I think haiku are possible if so written as to not merely shock. Shock alone is coarse and not subtle.

    Off topic, here in the USA we celebrate today what is really and Autumn harvest festival — Thanksgiving. A feast with friends and family is typical, but celebrating the bounty and blessings.
    A native bird to North America is roasted in the manner of a goose, elsewhere — the turkey.

    here is an unpublished haiku on this autumn topic, not propounded as having greatness… Ha!

    our turkey
    out of the oven
    the speed of smell

    – Paul (MacNeil), Happy Thanksgiving!

  31. Dear Gabi,

    An interesting point. Most writers do not write, I think, in order to be published… certainly some egoists do, but …

    I think you accomplish the same thing with a your own work on your blog. Not to get into the legal niceties, but you are in a sense publishing your work in that manner. On public lists, such as this one, I tend to quote only haiku that are published, under my name (or someone else’s) and the imprimatur of a journal of book… it is easier that way, and the copyright control is made plain. Your blog, the very act of typing it out and hitting send is to copyright it.

    Your work is always your own. Had I not previously published the haiku of the dead bear/black-eyed Susans, I might then read the idea some place else. Topic overlap happens naturally, no venality necessary. But no, I hope haiku writers do not write just to be published. – Paul

  32. “go the extra mile to tone them down, like I said earlier,
    to be palatable and acceptable to editors.
    Victor Gendrano”

    Victor rises another point worth of discussion.

    Is a haiku only worth mentioning when it is found in a magazine/publication (and has gone through the hands of an editor)
    in our modern online times, can a haiku be “published” on a personal blog, on facebook or twitter and thus be accepted and available to the public, without the need to “tune it down” (it used to be some kind of “tentori” in the good old days, writing to get good points … ).

    My way is to do my own publishing in my BLOG.
    I do not send out to editors. Does that make me “non-existent”, non-quotable to mainstream poets?


  33. I’m sorry for straying away from this forum for a while as I thought that since I have already given my piece of mind, it is enough. I forgot that this is a forum, with give and take rebuttals. Plus I am also wary, as I am using a borrowed tongue. Anyway, here’s my further feelings about writing vanguard haiku.

    In writing about those almost taboo subjects, I force myself to go beyond acceptable boundaries as there are very little written about them. Unfortunately they are happening all the time and, poets, to me, are ignoring them. For instance, I recently wrote about school bullying, even presenting a link to an article in L A Times in my blog. It’s not an isolated event occurring only in California but elsewhere in this great U S of A. I do believe that poets can become a conscience of a nation or society.

    schoolyard jungle
    the bullied boy
    commits suicide

    World Haiku Review
    Vol. 8, Issue 1, Jan. 2010

    I have also written on sex harrassment, nose ring of teenagers, teacher’s pet, illegal immigration, terrorism, and sexual innuendo. But in so doing I have to toe the line and go the extra mile to tone them down, like I said earlier to be palatable and acceptable to editors. News accounts are fertile grounds for me to mine these things like the politician reported lost in the wilderness, but actually with a mistress in a foreign country. I can go on and on, but I have also written on euthanasia, even murder. I don’t write those in haiku form only, by the way, as I also write tanka, cinquain, sijo, and other poetic forms, even free verse.

  34. Having trouble posting this for some reason.
    Since you’ve chosen a particular direction to take in regard to the “edge” of haiku, and since Victor Gendrano has not responded to your query, in order to keep the dialogue going, I would like to say a few words about subject matter in haiku that is, if not “forbidden,” is often not found in haiku.
    In my book A New Hand, I included the following haiku:
    a mother in the bath
    calling her son for a towel:
    the hidden love mound
    This particular haiku was meant to push the edge of what is acceptable and what is taboo in haiku; unfortunately, it is actually based upon an early experience of mine. It was the first time I had ever seen a woman’s vagina and the somewhat traumatic response and hidden desires and incest were all evoked.
    Here’s another, one that I never published:
    Waking in a sweat:
    mother curled in my lap
    is a black panther
    Again, the morbid, sexual hold my mother insisted upon in our relationship left me (and still exists) in a paralyzed position; what do you do with a panther in your lap; you simply can do nothing without threat to your life.
    I have also written some “political haiku,” another subject that is often neglected. I felt somewhat as if I were straying from what is ordinarily considered haiku, but did so because the subjects were in my consciousness/unconsciousness and I wanted to either rid myself of them or have the reader share the trauma.

    Ho Chi Minh City-
    young adults walk on all fours
    from our civility

    a factory built to make
    Hanes’ underwear

    The horrors of the past, the unfortunate aftermath of our society’s attempt to stop the collapse of capitalism in Asia, I felt, should be shared by us.

  35. A number of interesting posts on this subject, each which could take the discussion in different, fruitful directions. Seems the question of “edge” has many angles.

    One that I would to pick up for now is the edge of subject matter. Victor Gendrano says: “Playing my edge is writing about unusual and non-popular subject matter…”.

    What I would ask him, and all who relate to this particular edge, is: is this a personal edge? That is, in writing haiku, do you find you need to push your own boundaries to write about “almost taboo”, or difficult, shadowy, emotional, or provocative material?

    I think many readers find such material as perhaps so edgy that it “goes too far”, and maybe some writers want this response from readers. But what about the personal response, yours, as a writer? Are you exploring along some kind of edge, some place of discomfort?

    And, to push it a bit, is this place of discomfort (pick a better word if you will) based on your own visceral response, or on concerns that you are straying from your sense of what haiku is?

  36. I believe the phrase “thump of assault rifles and the stars” has two nouns, thump and stars and does not convey the thump of stars; if it were a sentence, it would be a compound one. I can see how one can read it to imply thump of stars, but I think the clearer meaning is of two separate nouns.

  37. While written words can contain nuance not communicated by spoken ones, they don’t always convey the emotional reassurances we most crave. I hope you understand, Paul, that my responses to you hold no animosity.

    I think it likely that McClure conceived of a cut after the capital letters, and another after rifles, which I believe would eliminate any unwanted star-thumpings.

    I, too, try to put aside my formal and formatting preferences when reading another’s poem. After all, we can either:

    1. Be open to the poet’s vision.
    2. Expect the poet to conform to ours

    As you point out, the history of english-language haiku is brief. Too brief, in my opinion, to produce a codified form. Some might consider that a flaw. I think it’s a strength.

  38. Thank you, Mark. This is illuminative. I did read most of the collection on line, but didn’t get the preface. Another old-fashioned or hidebound notion of haiku is that one is complete as a “stand alone.” Titles, footnotes, head notes are helpful in study, historical understanding, etc., but are not present in the haiku qua haiku. With so few words, each is important (echoing the words of several of my teachers). If the writer chooses a certain order, it is important (to the writer). As written, Michael McClure seems to hear both rifle (shots) thumps and star thumps. Other wording was available.

    It is of interest that the writer also pays attention to the sound(s) of haiku as pronounced. I have heard a number of recitations to music, some recorded — vince tripi comes to mind.

    Of course Mark, back to your previous comment, the words you quote were mine alone. I did address you at the top, but also Peter and the other commenters/readers.

    My own published writings/haiku, you mention, do vary, some are, for me, more edgy than others. Some are very minimal; some with an unpunctuated cut(break); some with no recognized kigo in Japanese saijiki; some sharing a middle line in two directions (pivot); some are even unbalanced with a single word holding a line unto itself, even the second line. Some aren’t very good. But yes, my haiku are in three lines and without indentations… as I couldn’t define how that in my own haiku would be pronounced.

    traffic wind
    in the black-eyed Susans
    a dead bear

    – Paul (MacNeil)

    I prefer that the words and their order be controlled by me, but not so as to draw attention to that control, or presentation, form, or the like. But that is just my personal preference. As judge and editor, I do not discriminate against styles other than my own. I do not speak for The Heron’s Nest other than to say that we Editors choose according to a philosophy and practice written at the site by the Founder. Times change; haiku changes, so do I and so do we as editors.

    I think it is wonderful that Charlie at Modern Haiku is putting out CDs of the Archive there. A reader can now dip in and out and assess the change of haiku over the many years and for any other type of research. Now Modern Haiku can live on as it were. The Nest is available in print and the archive is on-line. Here at THF are on-line and print versions of the largest edited anthology of EL Haiku in the (brief) history of our Art.

  39. Paul,

    You write, “how does one pronounce this poem? Full voice to start with a long pause after CON & before sciousness — (SHUSHNESS ??), stuttering for the rest of the words to denote the separate lines and the lack of sense for that… ?”

    After a bit of research, I found this, from McClure’s preface to Rain Mirror, in which “Haiku Edge,” which includes his link poem above, appears:

    “2. The lines of capital letters in Rain Mirror are not meant to be emphasized. Read “Haiku Edge” aloud, then the poems can be seen as energy constructs and the eccentricities of typography will disappear.”

    and further down, this:

    “10. In public performances at music clubs and colleges Ray Manzarek accompanies my reading of haiku on piano. Manzarek says he’s “playing the words.” We make a scroll of voice and music to float the poems, like parchment or silk supporting sumi ink.”

  40. I get the feeling I’ve been here before. It feels like riding on a merry-go-round, which is a startlngly beautiful machine, with all those mirrors and music and the antique animals, some stationary, some moving up and down. But, what is initially thrilling can become odious or nightmarish, turning in a circle, never, no matter how many times you try can you reach the ring. But a circle that contains all manner of figures and shapes and since each is riven in its place they cannot pass each other or come alongside each other, ever. Yet orthodoxy and non-orthodoxy arise together, neither can exist without the other, since they define one another. Lacks one lacks both, as Walt Whitman said.

  41. “Is haiku also an aural, and oral, art?”

    At Haiku Meetings in Japan, each haiku are read out loud two times, before giving any opinion about them.
    My teacher always advises me to read them aloud to myself, or rather, muble them many times to get a feel for the sound of it.
    If they do not sound smooth, go change it.

    (who does not live on the edge of ELH … :o) )

  42. If you think about it, SCIOUSNESS, would sound like what McClure wanted it to sound like : suchness or tathata (in Zen Buddhism), which is the name of the buddha, the state of supreme awareness of what is. So say it until you arrive.

  43. and yes, if it were read aloud I suppose this poem could be shouted at the beginning and not at the end, and whether spoken or read silently there is something about it that is, as Jack said, enacted.

    Is haiku also an aural, and oral, art? The answer depends on both poet and reader, in my opinion. I wouldn’t assume an affirmative answer.

  44. Paul: sorry. I keenly feel your complaint that you rarely get a good reply. “The vast cleverness of it all” are your words, not McClure’s (I don’t think) nor mine. Neither does the “edge” metaphor belong to me. To some extent, we confront here a conflict in taste. Can a poet, such as yourself, who prefers the understated use of the three-line format, and who must deliberate long and hard over such matters as enjambment and word placement, appreciate carefully chosen alternate strategies?

    Surely we could single out haiku written in your preferred format that are “clever”. And are we not “forced” to read any poem as it is written?

    btw, I enjoy reading the often-spotted common english-language haiku three-line-flush-left haiku format, including several of yours.

  45. dispatch from thin ice: From here, I can see Peter Yovu skating along the underside of the ice (the angle is disconcerting, and the triangle of his jaw is white as a sail). He beckons toward the edge, and seems to desire a meeting of…what? Mind, body, worlds? His motives are murky. There might be no turning back…

  46. Mark (& Peter and all),

    If the McClure is on the edge, what is it on the edge of? Such a concrete poem is always difficult to comprehend as haiku … as we are forced to follow the direction of the poet, and see the vast cleverness of it all. Sure, I saw a mushroom cloud at first glance. And so?

    I’m no expert in McClure, but last week I did read perhaps 100 by him, in similar layout. As an amateur in this studiousness, some were more successful for me than others. This one was not among those. So the first “two” lines are yelled? The author is telling me… that what humans perceive is a result of conscious perception? And so? Hard to know the subconscious and write of it, or the unconscious.

    Then, as I always do, and rarely get a good reply, I ask if haiku is also an aural, and oral art, how does one pronounce this poem? Full voice to start with a long pause after CON & before sciousness — (SHUSHNESS ??), stuttering for the rest of the words to denote the separate lines and the lack of sense for that… ?

    I am left to appraise the cleverness or lack thereof of the poet. And one last thing, since I’m left with only the literal on the page… just what is the sound of stars as they thump? If all is in my consciousness then shouldn’t I hear both rifle and star thumping?

    It is unfair of me to critique the work of a living poet — not here to reply to me. It is poetry, maybe even fine poetry. I do not think it much as a haiku, but the writer considers it haiku… and who am I? An unlionized, curmudgeonly fan of other haiku, I guess.
    – Paul (MacNeil)

  47. “McClure wonderfully dramatizes this in the format of the haiku, isolating words in one word lines thereby emphasizing the fact that everything is made up of parts that in themselves have no self-existence.” –Jack Galmitz

    Yes, and notice how the form of McClure’s poem references an upward and outward thrust, as of the explosion of a bomb (through the association with assault rifles) or of consciousness, or more specifically, as Jack implies, out of consciousness (another association with assault, as in assault on consciousness).

    The poem’s shape reminds me also of Yeats’ late preoccupation with the apocalyptic image of “cones” or “gyres.” As Frank Kermode explains them: “The dialectic in Yeats’ gyres is simple enough in essence; they are a figure for the co-existence of the past and future at the time of transition. The old narrows to its apex, the new broadens towards its base, and the old and the new interpenetrate.”

  48. Michael McClure’s haiku is remarkable in a number of ways. The use of capitalization in the first two lines emphasizes that everything exists as consciousness, that nothing exists outside of it. And yet, by the use of enjambment, isolating CON from SCIOUNESS, he draws attention to the fact that even consciousness is a “con,” counterfeit in its way, having no existence of its own (in the Buddhist sense). Consciousness is as empty of existence, being comprised of components and not having an essential nature.
    The composition of things, in Buddhism, is called Skandhas, or aggregates and all things share this nature.
    McClure wonderfully dramatizes this in the format of the haiku, isolating words in one word lines thereby emphasizing the fact that everything is made up of parts that in themselves have no self-existence.
    Yet, it is through consciousness, or better mind, he explains that the sublime-stars-and the pity and terror of tragedy (thumps of assault rifles) are realized and that they, too, have no existence, no essence, outside consciousness/mind and the way to freedom from suffering is through this awareness.
    Although I don’t lean towards Zen Buddhist haiku, I think McClure’s haiku is so well constructed, enacted, demonstrated, shown, that it is a remarkable haiku.

  49. Playing my edge is writing about unusual and non-popular subject matter and not by a one-liner, four-liner or concrete poetry layout.

    I have this propensity to write about the almost taboo topics in society such as abortion, suicide, sex, and war. I have written numerous haiku, senryu and vanguard really, about them. For instance I once wrote a haiku sequence of 14 three-liners about World War II in the Philippines, from a personal and close-up view as the country was occupied by the Japanese army then.

    Obviously because of this, Susumu Takiguchi, chairman of World Haiku Club, once labeled me as “an earnest but troubled observer of social and political ills of our time.”

    Here are examples of my senryu and vanguard poems.

    summer twilight
    a newborn gasps for breath
    in a trash can

    In Wildflowers, new leaves; a collection of world haiku. England, World Haiku Club, 2002

    she sells her body
    to drunken sailors
    for family food

    World Haiku Review
    Vol. 1, Issue 2, August 2001

    In more than a few occasions, however, I had to tone down my rhetoric to make my haiku publishable or acceptable to editors. One recent example is my poem about a high cliff which locals call suicide cliff due to the number of persons committing suicide by jumping from it. So instead of using suicide cliff, I changed the words to lovers’ cliff which sure enough got it published.

    lovers’ cliff
    a torn scarf totters
    near the water’s edge

    Notes From the Gean
    Vol. 2, Issue 1, June 2010

  50. Drowning the possum.
    In the clear lake,
    the stars

    – Alan Wells

    Not sure when this was written, but as it appears in the Second New Zealand Haiku Anthology, some time between 1993 and 1998.

    Possums in New Zealand are native to Australia and different to those in the US, a real pest here as they have no predators. They are destroying our indigenous forest at a huge rate – one estimate is that eat 9000 tonnes (metric tons) of leaves, fruit and berries every night, not to mention their appetite for bird eggs.

    Which is a long-winded way of saying, the only good possum is a dead possum.

    Alan’s haiku has cultural associations that go beyond the action of the poem.

  51. When I read VIrgilio’s haiku, I am immediately reminded of a like haiku by Shiki:

    the body of a dog
    thrown away
    in the winter river

    Both haiku rely on the reader’s sensibility of shock of the irreverance that is often shown towards life, of the almost causalness of a heightened moment of dread and awe in the face of this fact.
    Whether these haiku lose something by being too “explanatory” is a matter of opinion to me; I find both haiku quite telling, powerful, poignant, and the fact that they don’t use evocation, intimation as a primary means of getting there is of small importance to me.

  52. Is it really necessary to draw a demarcation between haiku on the edge or in the middle? Isn’t the middle precisely the edge between two things and isn’t the edge in relationship to a middle?
    Let’s just look at Hosai’s haiku. While we could call it, certainly for its time, an avant-garde haiku, I think it is fair to say that all modern works always bear signs, traces of their precedents. Nothing exists in isolation; nothing comes out of nowhere.
    So, we have Hosai rather ingeniously demonstrating a “new” way of writing about aware. We can certainly see the correspondence of Hosai’s haiku to Basho’s famous haiku

    All along this road
    not a single soul—only
    autumn evening

    Only Hosai devised, pushed the limits of aware to even include being alone and becoming aware of it in coughing.

    I greatly admire McClure’s haiku, but I’ll get back to it later; I’m feeling a bit tired at the moment.

  53. I’ll just say that I included the Virgilio poem because it breaks, or stretches, a “rule” which is often set down for haiku as a sine qua non.

  54. In the context of exploring the edges of haiku, it may be worthwhile to reminded of its middles. The introduction that Lee Gurga and I wrote to “The Nick of Time: Essays on Haiku Aesthetics” by the late Paul O. Williams explores this very subject, focusing on a poet who built his valued reputation as a haiku poet on the middle way. You can read “The Middle Way: Paul O. Williams’ Essays on Haiku” not only in the book, but also online at This introduction begins by saying “The Japanese haiku master Bashō once said that ‘The secret of poetry lies in treading the middle path between the reality and vacuity of the world.’”

  55. Another set of poems to consider in this vein are all the poems in Sonia Sanchez’s recent book, “Morning Haiku.” To me they are not haiku, but nearly all longer poems put into three-line stanzas, most of them paying no attention to seasonal reference or a two-part juxtapositional structure. Feeling? Good poetry? Sure. But not haiku. Most of them are what might be called “subjective counterfeits” of haiku (to quote from Yuasa’s translation of the full quote from which Basho’s “learn of the pine from the pine” passage comes from). Yet of course they are still part of the discussion of the “edges” of haiku.

    McClure’s haiku (not just the example presented here) typically retain a two-part structure and at least some measure of grounding in the real/natural and sometimes seasonal world.

    Virgilio’s poem is starkly chilling, but I would generally avoid presenting it as a model for beginners to follow because it’s really an explanation (telling too much). By saying it’s not a good model for beginners, I do not mean to suggest that it’s more “advanced.” In fact, quite the opposite. It’s more of a beginner sort of haiku. Or rather, it’s perhaps not a haiku at all, although Virgilio recognized its value as a poem, as do I. It’s a good example to quote here in discussing the edges of haiku, as might be Cor van den Heuvel’s “tundra” poem.

    Hosai’s poem is not without a virtue or two, but strikes me as more of a jotting than a poem, especially out of context. Hosai, like Santoka (and Takeboku with tanka) pushed the edges of haiku and was just being himself. There’s much to be admired in that, regardless of whether the poems are haiku or not.

    Edges? Yes, poets will and should explore them. But these same poets (and their readers) should always remember that failures result more often, I believe, than successes. I am not at all concerned about the blurring of the edges of haiku that result, but recognize that different readers may draw the line between haiku / not-haiku differently. Ultimately, whether something is a POEM is a more important question — and hopefully all these “edge” poems can still be recognized for having value as poetry first, before they might also have value as haiku.


  56. There seem to be two different things going on here, one is state of mind, what works for writing haiku, and the other is either edgy haiku, and the other type of haiku close to the edge of not being haiku.

    I find the poems by Hosai Ozaki and Nicholas Virgilio to be perfectly acceptable as haiku. They not so much push the boundaries of haiku itself, but push writers to cover personal ground that they might veer away from.

    Michael McClure’s haiku is edgy in that it is far removed from many of the perceived diktats of haiku, but the subject matter is similar to brave Japanese writers of haiku during the China invasions before WWII etc…

    I think a good haiku can always be seen inside whatever form the writer gives it.

    The following haiku by me are in recognised haiku format, and the subject matter is true as I tend to only write around actual experiences.

    sultry evening
    liquid from the take out bag
    runs near the victim

    street attack –
    I hold the young girl
    through her convulsions

    Both were published:
    World Haiku Review VOLUME 2: ISSUE 3 NOVEMBER 2002
    WHCvanguard – Hard or “Real” Haiku
    Vanguard Haiku Selected by Susumu Takiguchi

    I’ve experienced a lot of dangerous situtuations, not just the normal dangers of living in a city (Bristol had a crime rate similar to New York for a short while). As part of my work when younger I was close to death for a long time, but did it make me more aware?

    Did meditation make me more aware?

    I think meditation can highlight how alien, and completely zany (to be put it politely) is the life we are told is real, with all the uber-capitalism, war business, and petty politics.

    Haiku are pockets of peace that I cannot always take from longer poems.

    My time on Fraser Island, off the Queensland Coast:

    white sails …
    a wind has also shaped
    the tree

    Alan Summers
    *Azami #27 Osaka, Japan (August 1995)
    *Mainichi Shimbun, Japan (June 2005)
    *a procession of ripples:
    online haiku anthology ed. laryalee fraser (November 2006)
    *”Aesthetics” Summer 2007 (Bath Spa University literary journal)

    Lost somewhere is a haiku about a sunrise on Fraser Island. I was on my own, and the mosquitoes covered a small tree I climbed. They started stirring as the sun rose, but everything was so peaceful we seemed to come an agreement. I was never bitten that morning, and I’m sure it was pure coincidence. 😉

    Here’s one about cats that most people would not like to read because we prefer fun haiku about them.

    I love cats, but this cat still retained that unique cat look to the end:

    grimace of the roadside cat its last

    Alan Summers

  57. At the risk of giving away too much personal information, my edge comes when I can break free of my physical limits, break free of my circumstances…when suddenly I can step into a haiku that presents itself and my perspective is changed….
    Finding the photostat of a sumi-e I had done years before the sadness of no longer being able to feel the flow of the ink through my viens onto the paper… the sorrow broke into a haiku:

    in the widow’s garden
    songs in the night

    It’s a state of understanding that, as the Bible says, to God darkness and light are as one…

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