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the blogspot for The Haiku Foundation’s academic journal
Juxtapositions: A Journal of Haiku Poetics & Culture (JUXTA)


The Problem

by Philip Rowland

The problem: “haiku writing is a practice that’s easy to take up, but very difficult to get anywhere in.” 

The problem, and a solution of sorts:

“Haiku-like haiku aren’t particularly bad. But haiku that don’t seem haiku-like at all—nowadays that’s the kind I’m after.” 

—Santoka (trans. Burton Watson) 

Or: perhaps haiku poets would do well to stop being “haiku poets” for a while; to conceive of their work more broadly in the field of contemporary poetry and the canon to which they aspire. The relatively narrow (and necessarily hybrid) basis of the tradition of haiku in English, with its emphasis on the here and now, can only take us so far; thus many published haiku seem “thin.” Perhaps what’s needed is less striving to perfect the “same,” more writing against the grain. 

POSITIONS is a section of the blog for The Haiku Foundation’s haiku academic journal Juxtapositions: A Journal of Haiku Poetics & Culture (JUXTA), edited by Tom D’Evelyn. The space will be used for updates and topics related to the journal. Oftentimes, the posts will be excerpts from papers scheduled to appear in the journal. It is hoped that the posts/excerpts will inspire feedback that will help the author with revision of the piece for final publication in JUXTA.

This Post Has 148 Comments

  1. David, I’m deeply concerned about whether a poem is a haiku or not. But when something might not be a haiku, as with my “neon buddha” poems or American Sentences, I am not concerned about whether *they* are haiku or not. That’s because what matters most to me about those poems is that they are POEMS. It’s secondary to me whether they might or might not be haiku. (And as for haiku, I’m not sure why you think people have difficulty defining it. I’ll speak for myself and say that I don’t have any trouble defining it.)

    The Haiku Foundation is doing good work to promote haiku, and its leaders have the wisdom to trust its partipants to sort out for themselves whether a particular poem is a haiku, a senryu, or something else. And bravo for that. That trust should not be confused with a lack of knowledge, nor a lack of discernment.


    1. Just an opening.
      The universe is expanding.
      Are we here to stem the flow?
      Einstein had assumed the universe was static and inferred a cosmological constant.
      When Hubble proved that the universe was expanding, Einstein admitted that the cosmological constant was his greatest blunder.
      This doesn’t answer the question, quite, but it points in a direction I’ve taken and will take in later posts.
      I know this is going to be a polarized discussion, with mediators (bless their hearts), so I just wanted to venture in with a hint of my presence and not a thud.

    2. I also need to clarify a bit. There seem to be two tendencies (someone can perhaps supply the technical terms for them that I am lacking), implosion/explosion, integration/disintegration that I think would need to find some balance in the experimenting with the boundaries of haiku, otherwise one of the terms of the tension, say explosion, disintegration, would be uppermost and that would really spell the end of a form. On the other hand, adherence to integration, implosion, would deny the form its proper expansion and life. If we think of any living thing we think of it as having its own edges, boundaries, and yet we know it must exist in connection with its circumambient world, otherwise it would perish.
      So, while I write, sometimes, experimental haiku and am all for experimentations in pushing the limits of the form and its possibilities, I do acknowledge that it is a form and as such experimentations with it must and probably do have traces of the form in them.

      1. "So, while I write, sometimes, experimental haiku and am all for experimentations in pushing the limits of the form and its possibilities, I do acknowledge that it is a form and as such experimentations with it must and probably do have traces of the form in them. "

        In Japan, you can also read about the "freedom within the form".
        I find it much more difficult to keep the form and be innovative and original WITHIN it.

        1. That’s a good point Gabi. Perhaps, that is more precisely what I had in mind and didn’t phrase it well.

    3. I very much hope that Philip will be sticking around to participate in a discussion here. For me, there is no more important discussion to be had. Like Jack, I too will refrain for now from saying much along the lines of what I suppose some here would recognize as things I’ve said before: in favor of trying things that “don’t seem haiku-like at all”. I have used the expression “sketches from haiku” to describe what Philip refers to here as the “same”.

      Somewhat at the middle of this matter is the commonly accepted, or at least commonly stated view that, to incorporate Philip’s language, too much “going against the grain” will result in something that ends up being unrecognizable as haiku. Blake again: “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom”. For me, it’s all about risking going out of bounds. What was that movie with Jim Carrey where he was held, without knowing it at first, in someone else’s world? But then he found out. Yes, the universe is…

    4. I always delight in finding a haiku that has taken the form to a new understanding…alas, I seldom am able to write them. People who can are truly gifted and their poetry a rare pleasure.

    5. p.s. Somehow, the haiku I refer to all seem to have that spirit that identifies them clearly as haiku even when not true to form. I think of it as form (the container) and what it contains.

    6. Current boundaries are being explored via context….the old model of printed matter vs. the new oscillating model of the live/dead context of the single web page. The ephemeral suits the web nicely but requires the discipline of the clean page…a challenge to the normal format of web clutter. Web as collage.

    7. “…to conceive of their work more broadly in the field of contemporary poetry…”

      I’d like to add something to this comment ‘…to conceive of their work more broadly in the field of THE CRAFT OF contemporary poetry…’

      For me that means:
      1. using diction and syntax that’s appropriate to contemporary experience/language.
      2. looking at form (the shape of the poem on the page) as inseparable from content (what the poem’s about/what effect we want the poem to have on a reader).
      3. Being open to the use of figurative imagery but at the same time being aware that lightness of touch is essential in such a small form as haiku.
      4. Being aware of audience. Do we feel surprised, has our experience been freshened by what we’ve written? If so then then’s a good chance someone else’s will be too.

      The sonnet, although still written classically, has been subject to contemporary ‘interference’ (changes in rhyme, metre, even, occasionally, its number of lines…) and these ‘versions’ can still generally be identified by their inner tensions of structure, so perhaps the haiku can stand up to similar overhauls. For me, an ‘inner tension’ is what the best haiku have.

      But I do like the ideas of implosion and explosion mentioned above… something that pulls you in to its centre (particular experience) only to then throw you outwards in one or several directions (universal experience).

    8. Thanks, everyone, for commenting. To clarify a little: I’m not arguing for an anything-goes experimentalism, but for a relatively unselfconscious writing against the grain. I wonder whether the boundaries of “haiku” shift more interestingly when pushed, as it were, from without, rather than (more self-consciously) from within — imitativeness being as much a risk in experimental as in conventional writing. The other point I wanted to stress, in my position-statement, was the importance of being actively interested in other varieties of poetry. Is there a tendency among haiku poets to neglect to evaluate haiku by the same basic criteria as other poetry in their language; to get too caught up, that is, in writing as “haiku poets”, whether conventionally or experimentally? (This, I think, ties in with Lynne’s comment.)

    9. “The other point I wanted to stress, in my position-statement, was the importance of being actively interested in other varieties of poetry. Is there a tendency among haiku poets to neglect to evaluate haiku by the same basic criteria as other poetry in their language…” –P. Rowland

      I agree with your statement and question. If in a Borges or Armantrout poem I encounter a striking observation or description or turn of phrase, I’ll take it in. Sometimes what I’ve taken in becomes output in the form a haiku. Not in any obvious reference or imitation, but in the usual way influence strains/funnels/synthesizes through us, sometimes years later. This process can happen when we see/hear/read/touch other artforms as well, imo.

      I think haiku can reveal or reflect the whole person, and that can be true on the level of language, whether a poet is confessional or writes self-effacing nature poems.

    10. I don’t know if I can rightly answer your questions, Philip, not, at least, as they’ve been clarified by you.
      As I understand your questions, they seem to query as to the extent that the influence of contemporary poetry in general has on us as “haiku” poets; do we write foremost as poets or do we adhere firstly to our understandings of what a “haiku” poet should produce.
      Personally, I like to think that I have it both ways. I don’t deliberately write by a set of rules or the lack thereof promulgated by various groups who write haiku. I am more conscious as I write that I am writing a poem. On the other hand, I am also consciously/subconsciously writing a haiku, which implies something of a tradition, though that tradition in English has undergone considerable changes in the last decade.
      So, I’m not sure that there is a significant rift between what I view as the two poles posed by your questions.
      Let me give an example of a haiku that I’ve worked on for two days. Let the readers, if they wish, and include yourself, if you wish, decide whether the haiku meets the criteria of poetry in general and whether external influences-be they cultural, historical, poetic, what have you-have moved the poem to a new place of any kind in terms of haiku-like poems.

      Blue flags
      stand at attention:
      my head bows

    11. And, just so no one feels a compunction to bypass my post and take a new direction, feel free; I promise I will not take it personally.

    12. “Do we write foremost as poets or do we adhere firstly to our understandings of what a ‘haiku’ poet should produce.” I’m suggesting that the general tendency is to do too much of the latter. “Personally, I’d like to think that I have it both ways.” Which is, I think, as it should be.

      Mark’s earlier mention of Armantrout’s poetry is interesting. How many in the haiku community find her work relevant to their own? Not, I suspect, many — which is regrettable. (Apologies in advance if I’m off the mark.)

    13. In a general response to all the posts,
      I often find myself stuck thinking in a meter and form that I’ve come to identify with haiku, one that for me has to do with a struggle with the limited ways in which I am able to employ the structural device of kire, and perhaps more fundamentally, with the freedom to embody an experience as a haiku without the constraints of worn haiku conventions and ideologies that keep it in a narrow realm of expression. ( yes, all this begs the definition of what is haiku?, can we let that one float for a moment?…or two?)

      So as I continue to read haiku, I also willfully try to forget all of the characteristic techniques of haiku (knowing that I have relied too much upon them) by constantly reading other types of contemporary poetry and poetic prose to immerse myself in sounds and phrasings and meters that will upset my early learning of haiku.
      As Mark mentions,despite months and months of reading, it often amazes me how long it takes for me to spit something out on the page that begins to sound different, to embody differently, to address differently.
      Armantrout offers much to me as a haiku poet. I have not yet been able to translate into my writing much of what she teaches me through her work.
      I use the library alot for books that I can get that way, and I cannot find the poem online that I had wanted to share here, so
      instead, I will offer these quotes in hopes to intrigue those who do not know her work, to investigate it:

      from the Green Integer Press Blog
      (Forio, Ischia, July 6, 2007
      Reprinted from Shadowtrain [England], no. 18 (August 2007).
      Reprinted from Sibila [Brazil] (September 20, 2007).:

      “For many years now—and I am sure this is not an original perception—I have seen the poet Rae Armantrout as a kind of American haiku writer, a writer working in small units of seemingly unrelated fragments, placed on the page next to one another, which suddenly flower into new meanings in their apposition to and their relationships with one another. ”

      from Armantrout’s Poetry Foundation page:

      “I think my poetry involves an equal counterweight of assertion and doubt,” Armantrout has written. “It’s a Cheshire poetics, one that points two ways then vanishes in the blur of what is seen and what is seeing, what can be known and what it is to know. That double-bind.”

      Thank you Philip for opening up a discussion that wants to investigate more fully haiku in relationship to other forms of contemporary poetry.

    14. to follow Philip. not Eve who I see entered while I typed. Pace.


      Philip and all, I appreciate that you offer such scholarship to this and other topics at the Haiku Foundation.

      I will answer the last question, distilled by you, and concede, profess, my ignorance of Western Poetry. I write as haiku poet. True. But not as some other supernumerary category of Poet. I admit to being a Philistine (in the “indifferent” meaning, not antagonistic). While I admit affection for, not expertise in, the oeuvre of Shakespeare, and other poets, Longfellow comes to mind, for whom words and sound are/were important. Mine is a shallow education in these particular matters of non-haiku poetry. Perhaps sheepish, but not defiant, I have never heard of Armantrout. I do not read much modern short poetry, I cannot define “free verse” nor do I want to, and I do not subscribe to any other than haiku journals. What I would like to do is continue efforts at improving my craft and skill, and pursuing and teaching the Art of haiku. While on this teeny podium (as I have written before), one precisely one pine needle high, I am interested in haiku poets, their Art, and their improvements in ELH. I care not for definitions or discussions of ELH in light of other English poetry forms. Yes, haiku is poetry. It is a short poetry. But, I posit that not all short poetry is haiku. Then say: “ … and, so?”

      How many in ELH are Master of it? I have read some, and I have met some, and I even know some. But this type of ELH poet is not boundlessly available to us. Is there not room for us in ELH to improve? Does “haiku” have to come to resemble something else to achieve its own status? Seems quite a paradox. Haiku is a stand alone poem. Is not one great one enough for a page in a “potree” magazine? Or five on a page as long as the illiterati are shown that the haiku are not necessarily connected, each a one off. Must one be paired with some other poem from some other Tradition? Perhaps more scholarship vis-à-vis haiku and haikai? will yield a quantity of quality that can be material to teach the illiterate , as you (more politely) describe some “Poetry” Editors.

      There are quite a number of obvious scholars of Literature (and of haiku) here at The Haiku Foundation with appropriate backgrounds for those distinctions. I cannot follow their conversations about other poetries and their poets, so I’ll just read this part of The Haiku Foundation blog for a while without more comment. – Paul as Philistine, please forgive him, he means no affront.

      1. Paul, I think it takes a kind of "haiku mind" for haiku…I really don't know the words to say I understand what you are getting at. My favorite poet is John Ashbery…now it takes a kind of NY mind to really enjoy John…and I think it takes a kind of haiku mind to enjoy haiku. I'm no expert in poetry (although I have had my share of publications) and I come to haiku more in the path of sumi-e painting… I kind of get what you are saying here. Merrill

    15. I do write haiku from time to time, but I do not really consider myself a poet, just an ardent observer paying attention to my daily life and phrasing it in simple words.

    16. I agree with Eve as to the value of reading widely not only for pleasure but also to allow, possibly, for more freshness in one’s own writing. If, as Paul says, I want “to continue efforts at improving my craft and skill,” doesn’t it make sense to look to the work of more than a single coterie of contemporary poets? If “haiku is poetry” worthy of being taken seriously by the wider literary world, isn’t it essential that it be contextualized in relation to other English-language poetry? Otherwise, one is effectively saying “haiku is haiku,” and neglecting the fact that haiku in English has been hybrid and, in some respects, narrowly conceived, from the start.

      Thus it seems to me not so much a question of haiku “having to come to resemble something else to achieve its own status” as of its remaining, or becoming more, vital.

      Incidentally, a younger poet, influenced by Armantrout, whom I think most haiku poets would enjoy, is Joseph Massey – see his Areas of Fog (Shearsman Books, 2009). His poems are more closely related to mainstream haiku in English, and instructive in their musicality and careful weighing of every word.

      1. Phillip, I don't think Paul was against reading other poetries…but I think he was getting at something else…I can't quite put my finger on…something to do with the connection with haiku and the moments of living in a certain frame of mine…with certain tools, (the craft and skill he has worked on so long.) Some haiku poets are inspired by music, some by other poetries, some by exploring the woods, some by their every day lives. That's not the point …the point is the haiku way of looking at things…(and I'm not quite sure I'm putting that into words that mean anything to anyone???) Merrill

        1. I appreciate your response, Merrill. I'm sure "the haiku way of looking at things", that "certain state of mind" (as in the title of James Kirkup's anthology of 1995) means much to those of us who first came to haiku in English through, for instance, the first or second edition of The Haiku Anthology. I admire some of those poems as much as I do any other short poems in English. But the haiku way of looking at things (as it has been mainly understood and promoted by haiku communities in the West), with an eye to the “moment", seems to have been discussed enough – perhaps too much, even. Claims have been made for the importance of haiku in English, yet these mean little unless it is seen fully in the context of 20th and 21st C. poetry – with a clear sense, that is, of haiku as poetry (which, above all, as craft, it is). I hope I haven’t missed your point entirely…

    17. I appreciate Paul MacNeil’s concerns. A good question: “Does ‘haiku’ have to come to resemble something else to achieve its own status?” It speaks to a kind of “inferiority complex” that some may feel about their writing, and their place in American letters, or Canadian, or British…. I like that Paul seems to be saying/asking: why do we need to bow to a poetry establishment that, to its own diminishment, has largely ignored the considerable depths that haiku and haikai offer!?

      If it is “excess” to keep within a certain sphere of influence, or to stay loyal to one’s lineage, then, if one should do so with all one’s heart, I have no doubt a “palace of wisdom” will be attained, and I am grateful that some will continue to follow that road. I hope to learn from them.

      For me, it is a question of keeping one’s words/perceptions/thoughts fresh, and alive. And this means not holding on to them, not holding on to any platform once it has become too secure. (In truth, I do tend to hold on, but sooner or later I can feel the faint vibrations of the termites’ jaws jawing away).

      One of the ways I at least try to keep things fresh is with the ongoing argument I have with myself, a kind of oppositional, friendly dialog. I ask myself a lot of questions, and one is around influence. I’d like to say that influence is the presence of anything that is not *me*, or not perceived to be *me*. In this sense, Armantrout’s poetry, Massey’s poetry (new to me), Cid Corman’s and Paul Muldoon’s—can all be influence: they *flow in* to the extent that I allow them and work their changes to the same extent.

      Of course, what I may end up learning by allowing such influence is that I am resistant to it, that I have a pretty solid idea of what haiku is, or poetry is, and *that* ain’t it. (Sometimes it isn’t). But for me, just as I want to know where too narrow a conception of myself gets in the way of living my life as fully as possible, so with writing: *am I stuck here*? One could say that a poem, a haiku, is something that has struggled free of the ideas it had about itself. Damn it Jim, I’m a cocoon, not some ephemeral butterfly with space-dust on its wings!

      I realize this sounds pretty idealistic, but it’s my truth for now, and I’m sticking with it… at least until the contractions begin.

      One more thing—I hope people will post some poems which will illustrate some of what is being said in this thread, and instigate more… When I can later, I’ll see what I can find.

      1. Peter, I love that "haiku is one that has struggled free of ideas about itself"…Thanks for that one!

    18. despite second law
      Newton’s thermodynamics
      energy expands

      growth of one’s spirit
      increases available
      energy for all.

      allow the spirit
      to learn grow expand at will
      universe thanks you

    19. Just to add to Peter’s: “One more thing—I hope people will post some poems which will illustrate some of what is being said in this thread, and instigate more…” It would probably be helpful if people indicate how the poem(s) they’re posting illustrate what has been said (or what more they’re saying) in the thread.

      Thanks, in any case, for those already posted. (I particularly enjoy the dandelion wine.)

    20. PS. Excuse the sloppy grammar in my previous post! (Not the dandelion wine, just getting late here in Tokyo.)

    21. To illustrate my point (May 23rd, above) about the musicality of Joseph Massey’s poems and their closeness to the mainstream of haiku in English, with regard to the particularities occasioning them, let me quote his “Boardwalk, Humboldt Bay” – for a close reading of which, see the review of Massey’s Areas of Fog in Jacket magazine:

      slack then
      stiff in free fall —

      beak bent
      toward the dredged
      bay’s surface.

      Water brown
      as the red-
      wood trunks

      stacked on
      flatbed trucks
      trudging down 101.

      This poem is originally from a collection titled “Property Line”, which has an epigraph from Rae Armantrout, who has also been mentioned in this thread:

      Here’s the small

      of this clearing…

      The first poem in the sequence of short poems that follow could well, perhaps, be read as haiku, though any other form of lineation would not be so effective:

      Hill’s red
      edge —

      that numbed
      your tongue.

    22. Musicality is something rare in Elh, if only because music, by its nature, requires duration and the chance to play with silence in ways a stand-alone very short poem may not achieve. (Haiku surrenders to silence so easily). There are several poets working with haiku and haiku-derived poems whose work is rich in and made effective by sound. Here are few poems taken from Roadrunner:

      A candle is a sweet machine
      to fly across the crow-
      shaped night

      Grant Hackett

      slammed by salt and sun
      the paint has no chance in this Mexican prison

      David Caruso

      a loud goose
      toward the moon —
      I’ve lived here too

      P W Lyles

      These are short songs, yes, and yes, musical. For me, the presence of sound (more than the mere presentation of image) is in some way the presence of love. A loved thing—a thing well attended– has many names: it makes us want to make every shape possible of mouth and tongue the better to take it in and taste it. We want to have our cake and speak it too.

      But a longer poem– if only a little longer– like Massey’s “Boardwalk” which Philip has given above, can develop musicality in ways a short poem cannot. Vowels aside (“sounds calling to sounds” I believe Bly has said, a poet not naturally musical) one can hear the play of “k” and “n” sounds all down the poem, a pelican cascading. It is not only that they enhance the image(s) presented, they are their own, musical image, a kind of embodied thought dancing.

      For me, one way to explore musicality in haiku could be to write a sequence of stand-alone poems that are connected by sound. (The are necessarily connected by sound, of course, but how well, how pleasurably?) And here, reading someone like Massey and poets in his lineage, can be helpful—simply to get the feeling for what is possible.

      But another way, one I have been exploring, is to consider a bunch of poems already written (perhaps with no conscious thought of developing musicality) and arrange them—by sound. Do themes become apparent? Does the juxtaposition—sound calling to and modulating sound– of 2 poems with a third suggest a revision that might help the third? Or simply, does this kind of play bring out otherwise unseen and unheard nuance?

      The review of Massey’s book, for which Philip has provided a hyperlink above, is well worth reading. It says a few things which haiku poets will probably find interesting, or even react to. I want to read it more closely before saying more—if I do—but it certainly made me wonder why more (musical or not) haiku poets do not receive attention outside the usual venues.

      Thanks, Philip.

      1. Peter, Your "play with silence" is wonderful. Walk into it…wander around…no words necessary. Haiku has its own voice.

    23. Thing
      by Rae Armantrout

      We love our cat
      for her self
      regard is assiduous
      and bland,

      for she sits in the small
      patch of sun on our rug
      and licks her claws
      from all angles

      and it is far
      to “balanced reporting”

      though, of course,
      it is also
      the very same thing.

    24. Thanks for the thoughts, Peter. Yes, arranging haiku or similarly short poems with particular care for sound, or musical interplay, and sometimes finding that new dimensions of theme become apparent as a result, is a particularly stimulating style of sequencing. (And possibly also a means of appealing to those who tend to balk at really short stand-alone poems — at “surrendering to silence so easily”.) Nonetheless, as you also say, a lot can be done with sound and sense in, say, 7-17 syllables. Examples abound in the work of writers of short poems, including, of course, haiku.

      Samuel Menashe is an important “father” figure in this respect – particularly good at making music in few words, and with a reading style that does them full justice: his “A pot poured out / Fulfills its spout” perhaps the most well known example. (For a full appreciation of this poem, right down to “the very letter”, see Christopher Ricks’s introduction to the new and selected poems.) Donald Davie pointed out that it’s not just a matter of rhyme and assonance, but also of drawing out “the full meaning locked in [the words’] etymologies”, as in this example:

      The niche narrows
      Hones one thin
      Until his bones
      Disclose him

      I’ve quoted Menashe also because his poetry seems a strand of Massey’s lineage, as well as that of haiku in English. (If I remember correctly, some of Menashe’s poems were featured in the first issue of Tundra magazine).

      Yes, an article like the Jacket review of Massey’s poems (or Silliman’s delight in Roberta Beary’s book) does make one wonder why haiku hasn’t been noticed more. This is perhaps too big a question to get into here, or here and now, but I wonder whether it has less to do with the poetry “establishment” having “ignored” it than with insularity in the haiku community, one aspect of which could be the publication of too much mediocre work in its journals, another the focus solely on haiku by many of those published in the usual venues. Doubtless the image of haiku spread via pop culture (haiku for dogs, haiku for busy business people, for fun syllabic messages and writing exercises) has got in the way, as well.

    25. Armantrout’s “Thing” addresses issues alive in our haiku conversations: the status of objects/things, the theory of perspective/angle, the cultural cliche of “balance,” and as a poem delightfully alludes to other poems (e.g., “My Cat Geoffrey” and the topic of thinghood in a range of poetries, including Rilke and Williams), which we file under “intertextuality” (which helps with the vertical strut informing the tension that holds haiku together). Haiku, being extremely brief, can’t be so “open” in its moves as is “Thing,” but the moves are often there as part of a given haiku.

    26. The quotation from Santoka that begins this discussion reminds me of my favourite quotation from Roland Barthes (from his book *Empire of Signs*), where he says that “‘The haiku has this rather fantasmagorical property: that we always suppose we ourselves can write such things easily.” Indeed, it is one of haiku’s virtues that it can look so simple — that fact is surely a significant part of its attraction, for both seasoned poets and those who are entirely new to poetry, including children. Yet that same virtue also deceives, in the sense that it hides the significant challenges in haiku. As with every great art, the artist works exceptionally hard to make the art look utterly easy, and that irony seems especially true of haiku.

      Anyway, yes, I think we can be too narrow in our focus on what haiku is and neglect the larger sphere of poetry. Even though I would never hold up Muldoon’s haiku (or “haiku”) as a prime example of what haiku should do in English, I still love what those poems do as poetry. A poem should first succeed as POETRY before it might happen to succeed as a haiku or senryu or tanka or cinquain or fib (the poetry form) or a hay(na)ku or whatever.

      I’ve lately been writing tons of “neon buddha” poems — and I don’t care if they’re haiku or not, since that’s not my intent to worry about that. They are at least informed by haiku because of brevity (three lines) and often having a concrete image in at least part of the poem (even while the rest of it might be surreal). Here are five examples:

      the neon buddha
      dies again and again
      in the rose garden

      bowling night
      the neon buddha
      strikes again

      neon buddha

      playing second fiddle
      in the Solipsist Marching Band
      neon buddha

      checking the oil
      of forgetfulness
      neon buddha

      Additional examples have appeared in Roadrunner, 3Lights, and elsewhere. I also just had 40 of them appear in the 2010 Jack Straw Writers Anthology ( I’ve written more than 1,200 neon buddha poems (“haiku”?) in the last year.

      In the last year or so, too, I’ve written hundreds of “American Sentences,” Allen Ginsberg’s form derived from haiku, using them mostly to record things said by my kids (age 4 and 6) and my wife (who is Japanese). I also write a lot of longer poetry.

      With these American Sentences and my neon buddha poems, if not longer poetry, one question (for some people, I presume) might be how they fit in with haiku. Well, shucks, does it matter? They’re poetry, and that alone should be enough. They don’t need to fit in — nor do they have any intent to write “against the grain.” They’re doing their own thing, and don’t need haiku to either validate or invalidate them. It seems to me that those of us who write poetry would do well to also write (and at least read) a lot more than just haiku and related forms.


      P.S. I always expect postings here to leapfrog over each other, as they do in online discussion lists. It’s natural, given the random times readers engage with various posts, for multiple parts of conversations to developed at once.

    27. Thank You, Philip, for introducing Joseph Massey and Samuel Menashe; I don’t know their work. Here’s to summer reading!
      And Peter, your commentaries in attention to sound are always appreciated.

      I found the following poem of Massey’s online. I love its sound,
      its use of allusion, and the way it breaks and cuts.

      Flies, sun-
      dried, line
      the windowsill.

      what was summer.

    28. Yes, here I am again to point out the paradox that what people here seem to want to write are brief modern poems, not specifically “haiku.”

      Posters here keep saying they are not particularly concerned whether their verses are “haiku or not.” Reflecting that apparent consensus, Michael Dylan Welch says, “Shucks, does it matter?” Well, apparently not to most here. To those really concerned about writing haiku rather than simply brief modern verses, it would matter a great deal.

      So why not just drop the pretense of being a “Haiku Foundation,” given that so many here are really unconcerned about writing haiku, and far more concerned about writing brief poems more acceptable to the literary mainstream than recognizable haiku has proved to be?

      My impression from reading here is that the bulk of those who post are people dismayed by the low status (or no status) given modern haiku in Western Literature, and who consequently want to change it to be more acceptable as “poetry,” no matter to what distance that change removes it from haiku.

      The other and obvious problem, of course, is that no one here seems to really know what a haiku is or how to define it. But we have travelled that road before. Nonetheless, if one does not know what a modern haiku is or how to define it, one could call it most anything. So why belabor the term “haiku” by stretching it far out of shape over such unlikely frames?

    29. “Posters here keep saying they are not particularly concerned whether their verses are “haiku or not.” Reflecting that apparent consensus, Michael Dylan Welch says, “Shucks, does it matter?” Well, apparently not to most here.
      To those really concerned about writing haiku rather than simply brief modern verses, it would matter a great deal. ”

      Thanks for pointing this out …
      The root of the problem in the difinition of HAIKU, it seems.
      To me it matters !

    30. Don Quixote is not a man given to extravagance, but rather a diligent pilgrim breaking his journey before all the marks of similitude. He is the hero of the Same. He never manages to escape from the familiar plain stretching out on all sides of the Analogue, any more than he does from his own small province. He travels endlessly over that plain, without ever crossing the clearly defined frontiers of difference, or reaching the heart of identity.

      -Michel Foucault

    31. “He travels endlessly over that plain, without ever crossing the clearly defined frontiers of difference, or reaching the heart of identity.”

      When I travel from Germany to France, I cross the frontier and know it.
      I have different names for different experiences, different identities, different languages (not to speak of the different taste of the food ! )

      It is the little differences that matter !

    32. Cervantes inaugurates the modern novel through the impurity, the mestizaje of all known genres. Often criticized for ignoring the requirements of the well-made novel (recognizable characters, expert plotting, linear narrative), Cervantes audaciously brings into his book, first and foremost, the dialogue between the epic (Don Quixote) and the picaresque (Sancho Panza). But then he introduces the tale within the tale, the Moorish, the pastoral, the Byzantine modes and, of course, the love story. The modern novel is born as both an encounter of genres and a refusal of purity.

      Out of this meeting, Cervantes proposes a new way of writing and reading whose starting point is uncertainty. In a world of dogmatic certitude, he introduces a universe where nothing is certain.

      – Carlos Fuentes

    33. I think “Don Quixote” comes out of the medieval world, the world of chivalry he evokes and reads about and tries to enact, the world of the Middle Ages, which is basically a world of analogy, where everything has a meaning. All words have a precise meaning, a precise function, and all things have a precise place. This order is established by means of analogy on a scale that leads to God. Don Quixote goes out into a world where this is shattered; his search for analogy leads him into a world of proliferating differentiation. The wayside inns, the people he meets, Maritomes, the dukes, and, what is most important of all, the readers of “Don Quixote” he encounters tell him, “Your world doesn’t exist anymore. Your world of unity and analogy is shattered. We offer you this world of infinite diversity.” Don Quixote is a great hero of fiction and of philosophy … because he will not give up the idea of unity in order to understand the world of diversity.

      – Carlos Fuentes

    34. You might have seen an editorial written by the Dalai Lama in this morning’s NYT. Here’s a quote:

      “… every religion has a sense of exclusivity as part of its core identity. Even so, I believe there is genuine potential for mutual understanding. While preserving faith toward one’s own tradition, one can respect, admire and appreciate other traditions.

      An early eye-opener for me was my meeting with the Trappist monk Thomas Merton in India shortly before his untimely death in 1968. Merton told me he could be perfectly faithful to Christianity, yet learn in depth from other religions like Buddhism. The same is true for me as an ardent Buddhist learning from the world’s other great religions”.

    35. As Michael points out, one needn’t intend to “write against the grain” to write poems that relate to haiku more distantly or obliquely. I must admit, I had mixed feelings about using the phrase “against the grain”, but as I mentioned in an earlier message, I meant it to include the notion of writing unselfconsciously in other ways, and my suggestion that haiku poets “conceive of their work more broadly” to imply what Michael says about the value of writing (or at least reading) “a lot more than just haiku and related forms”. (That this seems to need saying at all is rather amazing!) I would, however, add that going against the grain in the sense of trying to resist the tendency to write in ways that have become ingrained seems “healthy” to me as well.

      In response to the objection that what “people here seem to want to write are brief modern poems, not specifically haiku,” I’d like to stress that I’m not arguing against the writing of poems conceived specifically as haiku, but for a more qualified, open conception of haiku as part of the spectrum of Western poetics. To try to situate haiku in English in this way, for a wider audience as well as haiku aficionados, is, as I understand it, one of the objectives of the haiku foundation. And as the homepage’s slideshow says, enduring haiku in English almost invariably break the “rules” – which, as we know from discussions (at times, “wars,” apparently) in the haiku community over the past few decades, are best kept in quotation marks. Arguably even the term “haiku” for such poems in languages other than Japanese should be kept in quotation marks, at the back of our minds, at least. I do of course believe that it is an apt term, helpful in identifying an increasingly popular trend and new field of literary accomplishment in short poetry over the past century. But to acknowledge that haiku in languages other than Japanese are, strictly speaking, haiku-like “brief modern poems”, in the sense of having been influenced by Japanese haiku as it has come to us through translation, is not to denigrate it. Of course, the haiku-likeness is only part of the story; the poetics of E-L haiku haven’t come out of the blue: Western spheres of influence, from the Transcendentalists to certain Modernists to the ‘Beat’ fascination with Zen, and beyond, are just as important. I think that contemporary poets who have a particular interest, and are practiced in writing in established styles of haiku, tend to “use” it to their own purposes, as poets, without always setting out to write haiku – the main concern being trying to follow where the poem takes them.

      I realize there are other perspectives on this, and that the ground has been covered before, so will leave off there. I should say that despite the provocative tone of my “position”, it is meant tentatively! I’m grateful to all who have taken it seriously enough to comment.

      Thanks, by the way, Tom, for quoting the Armantrout poem, which I hadn’t read before, and for your comments on it. On reading the first few lines, my first reaction was, oh no, not another cat poem, but of course it quickly becomes something quite else, more ironic and reflective. Ah, “For I will consider my Cat Jeoffrey” – an old favourite! Your mention of “intertextuality” (allusion, as I think David Burleigh has often pointed out, not being a form of depth that haiku in English often goes into) made me think of a poem of Armantrout’s entitled “Context” – perhaps worth quoting here, not least for its comprising a series of short poems separated by asterisks – typical of the way really short pieces appear in her work (this from Veil: New and Selected Poems, p. 51):


      berries at dusk
      as possible

      results. The chosen
      contexts of display,

      arrangement and arrival.


      set against desultory or

      puddles, drops.


      Circles an old woman’s
      fingers trace
      on the nubs of
      her chair arms.


      Waits for the word to come
      to her, tensed
      as if for orgasm.

      Fear surrounds language.

    36. Michael writes:

      “That’s because what matters most to me about those poems is that they are POEMS. It’s secondary to me whether they might or might not be haiku.”

      That is precisely my point. You have it backwards. If one is writing a good haiku, it will of necessity be a good “poem,” though not necessarily according to modern Western notions of what constitutes a good poem. The more haiku tries to be “poetry” instead of being haiku at its best, the less it will be haiku.

      The root of the problem is that modern “haiku,” speaking loosely, cannot make up its mind what it wants to be. It is more concerned with being an acceptable “poem” than with being good haiku. If one goes for the latter, the former will follow, though perhaps not in the conventional sense one expects.

      I think perhaps the only person here who can understand what I am talking about is Gabi, because she is still in a culture where the predominant form of haiku is even today closely related to haiku as Shiki began it. Yes, there are other approaches to “haiku” in modern Japan, but they have never achieved the popularity of the traditional variety. And to understand why the traditional variety is popular there — why people are not simply trying to write Western “poems” first and haiku second — one has to understand the aesthetics of the popular haiku in Japan, which still preserve, to some extent, those of the hokku.

      It is precisely because these aesthetics have never really been properly understood or appreciated in the West that haiku has rapidly devolved into just another form of Western brief verse in which writing a good “poem” is more important than writing a good haiku.

      Michael adds,
      “And as for haiku, I’m not sure why you think people have difficulty defining it. I’ll speak for myself and say that I don’t have any trouble defining it.”

      Your definition (already given previously) seems to have little in common with your stated ideals of “poetry first, haiku second.” Further, there are countless modern haiku that do not even remotely fit your personal definition. That is precisely the situation in modern haiku. Each writer decides personally what “haiku” is to mean in any given instance. That is why people here are able to say such paradoxical and ultimately senseless things as “I don’t know if it’s haiku, but….”

      Unless and until one knows what one is writing, one can hardly claim to write it. A Japanese who writes a haiku knows when it is a haiku. Americans seem incapable of this simply because they insist on so redefining and reshaping the haiku that it is haiku no longer. That is because they are far more concerned about being “poets” and writing “poetry” than they are or have ever been about writing haiku.

      Until that situation changes, Western haiku will continue to devolve and fragment.

    37. Thank you, David !

      neon buddha . . .
      I long for the fragrance and flicker
      of a beeswax candle


    38. *Poet’s work*

      advised me:
      Learn a trade

      I learned
      to sit at desk
      and condense

      No layoff
      from this

      Lorine Niedecker, “Poet’s work” from Collected Works, edited by Jenny Penberthy, Copyright © 2002 Regents of the University of California. Published by University of California Press.

    39. *Tradition*

      The chemist creates
      the brazen
      Thy will be done

      Time to garden
      before I
      to meet
      my compost maker
      the caretaker
      of the cemetery

      Lorine Niedecker, “Tradition” from Collected Works, edited by Jenny Penberthy, Copyright © 2002 Regents of the University of California. Published by University of California Press.

    40. rain beads on a bare twig what light there is

      (first published ‘Shamrock Haiku Journal’)

      their wings like cellophane remember cellophane

      (first published ‘Roadrunner’)

      – Lorin Ford

      I don’t mind if anyone wants to get stuck into these two one-liners in any way. Personal criticism angers me; legitimate criticism of anything I’ve written doesn’t.

      To my mind, the first is a haiku and the second is a short poem which has something in common with haiku, though subversive of one way of looking at haiku. I reserve the usual right to change my mind in the future, of course ;-) and welcome others’ views.

      *Note*: by haiku I mean English-language haiku. I am not interested at present in whether they fit criteria for Japanese haiku or not, since I’m not interested in writing ‘faux Japanese’ haiku.

    41. Lorin:
      I think both poems/haiku are stunning.
      I admire the multiple possibilities of break in the first; either rain beads on a bare twig/what light there is or alternatively the rain beads (as a verb) the diffuse light, concentrating it and making it visible.
      I also love the second poem/haiku; the unnamed insect, perhaps a butterfly, with wings as soft and sheer as cellophane, a thin, transparent material, remembers that the industrial product has its origins in cellulose, which is the food stuff, the stuff that made the insect’s wings in the first place, so there is no real conflict between the old and new, only difference. It is an extremely well done piece of work.
      In my opinion both are haiku and both are poetry; and I rather admire the “subversive” nature of the second (though it is really a tender awareness), and the “pristine” nature of the first.
      Just as an aside, I wrote my haiku above your wonderful cites of Lorine Niedecker as a proposal that we can combine tradition (which is why, I suppose you cited that poem by Niedecker) and innovation in our haiku. As much as I admire the fragrance and flicker of beeswax candles counter-poised to a neon buddha and the author’s longing for the old, so, too, I admire a Hassidic scholar turning on electric lights (innovations in our technologies and knowledge and culture) and reading from the first commentary ever composed of the Jewish oral tradition.

    42. David (Coomler), you quote me saying this: “That’s because what matters most to me about those poems is that they are POEMS. It’s secondary to me whether they might or might not be haiku.” Then you say “That is precisely my point. You have it backwards. If one is writing a good haiku, it will of necessity be a good “poem.”

      You seem to have missed the fact that I was referring to “those poems” — meaning my neon buddha poems and American Sentences. I was NOT referring specifically to haiku. So I don’t have it backwards at all. I will assume that you meant to read more carefully than that.

      But perhaps you have a deeper misunderstanding? You then say “Your definition (already given previously) seems to have little in common with your stated ideals of ‘poetry first, haiku second.’” Again, though, what I said about “poetry first” was about my neon buddha poems and American Sentences. :-) That doesn’t mean that haiku shouldn’t also be poetry first before it’s haiku. Poetry is the larger bucket, and haiku is one of the bucket’s little fish. It’s not poetry first, haiku second — it’s poetry first, and ALSO haiku.

      Haiku is a very vibrant genre of poetry, and it has a great deal more range than any one of us is probably capable of achieving with our own writing. Again, consider Henderson’s statement that “haiku will be what the poets make of it” — but let’s not forget what he wrote immediately after that, that the poetry can’t depart too far and still be haiku. My point is that I’m rather strict on what I think makes a good haiku, but that does not mean that I or anyone else cannot write poems that might be on the fringes of haiku (or not haiku at all), yet still be brief and condensed, and still appeal to people who also appreciate haiku. Thank goodness for all the excellent poems that haven’t concerned themselves with labels. And thank goodness for haiku too, whether they have concerned themselves with labels or not.

      In *A Book of Tea*, Kakuzo Okakura says (page 48 in my Dover edition) that “We classify too much and enjoy too little.”


    43. switching on the lights…
      a scholar in a black suit
      studies the mishna

      Jack, will you say why you chose to include this in the present discussion? I do like the musicality, the way “mishna” keeps my ear attuned to “switching” so that I listen and look for switches in the poem. (I switch from a sense of study illuminating a scholar’s mind/soul, to a sense of the lights illuminating his black suitedness. Suits me either way and both and other.

      Okay, I just read your additional post and get your point.
      rain beads on a bare twig what light there is

      their wings like cellophane remember cellophane

      Perhaps because Lorin showed us her two poems after first showing us 2 by Niedecker, I am struck with the sense that they (Lorin’s) emerge out of, or between, 2 influences: Japanese haiku and Western free verse. I’ll lazily assert that in some way they exist as a meeting place between the two. I know that’s a rather obvious thing to say, but given the context of this thread I am more than usually struck by this, and perhaps it’s worth stating the obvious.

      Less obvious( to be playful about it) are a couple of ways of reading the poems (there are others) that may be a bit of a stretch:

      rain beads on a bare twig–
      what light there is!


      their wings like cellophane–
      remember cellophane?

      but the (I believe) dominant sense of cellophane remembering cellophane has a kind of *language* (Armantroutian?) element, the word “cellophane” remembering itself, which is probably the promise all words make to us when we learn them: that they will remember and be true to themselves, and wait for us to be true to them in poetry.

    44. I read the meaning of cellophane and shape in Lorin’s poem in reference to cellophane returning to its own shape… a kind of a chemical memory.

      Reminded of the 2nd place poem in the 2006 Haiku contest by Haiku Poets of N. California ( by the late Claire Gallagher:

      Hiroshima Day
      cigarette-pack cellophane


    45. Michael wrote:

      “Haiku is a very vibrant genre of poetry, and it has a great deal more range than any one of us is probably capable of achieving with our own writing. Again, consider Henderson’s statement that ‘haiku will be what the poets make of it'”

      That [modern] haiku is “a very vibrant genre of poetry” is simply and obviously wishful thinking, which is why only those within modern haiku make such patently fanciful statements. The rest of the literary world goes a different way, leaving the haiku ghetto unvisited and unmourned.

      That is why those in modern haiku keep wistfully talking about “poems” and the day they will finally be recognized as “poets,” rather than focusing (as they should) on haiku. I won’t go into the psychology of this, but will leave it to those involved.

      As for Henderson’s statement that “haiku will be what the poets make of it,” he had already begun to see the foolishness and lack of foresight in that ill-considered remark when informed what others were even then busy making of it — and Henderson was not pleased. Today, many decades later, we actually see what “poets” have made of it, and what they have made of it is largely a chaos of insignificance.

      But there is no point in pursuing this further. People have the right to compose what they wish how they wish. Eventually it will all sort itself out, just as a decaying building eventually collapses from its own weight.

    46. I continue to see haiku as vibrant and varied, and far from decaying. Quite the opposite. When I open a new issue of Modern Haiku or Frogpond or Acorn and a haiku catches me by surprise with a fresh image and startling implication, as nearly always happens, I am doubly pleased to be able to participate in everything haiku is. Sure, we all respond best to different aspects of haiku, but that’s a strength of this poetry, not a weakness. When Henderson wrote (with his caveat) that haiku will become what the poets make of it, he was recognizing that haiku is nothing without the poets who shape it. He was recognizing that just as Basho shaped haiku, and Buson and Chiyo-ni and Issa and Shiki and Kyoshi shaped haiku, so too can we shape it. And we can do so by balancing tradition and innovation — which was exactly what I think Henderson was getting at. I agree with Jane Hirshfield who says (of poetry) that rather than simply make “make it new,” it’s better to “make it yours.”


    47. David,
      I appreciate your point of view. Taking a hard look at haiku in relation to contemporary literature is crucial at this time, I feel. However, I find your logical “or” (haiku /OR/ poetry), fairly irrational. Also your comments on Shiki are ill-informed. It is important to understand the difference between Shiki, Kyoshi, Hekigoto and the Hototogisu journal as an arm of Kyoshi’s monomania, in the decades leading up to the Japan wartime period, 1931-45). On Shiki approach to haiku, have you caught the interview here, with Tsubouchi Nenten:
      (second video).

      As you might know, the active dues-paying membership of just the gendai haiku association (gendai haiku kyoukai, only one of many gendai associations) is over 15,000. Membership has increased every year since the founding of the organization, in Showa 36 (1961). . This number may be more than the total number of poets who have ever composed haiku with serious intent, outside Japan. The scale of haiku activity and it’s relative centrality to literary culture must be considered, when making “popularity” comparisons, especially with intercultural implications.

      The Hototogisu group of shasei-oriented poets is the largest organization in Japan, but your intimation that gendai haiku is somehow minor in cultural impact here is incorrect. In fact, Kaneko Tohta, at 91, is among the most notable poets in Japan and continues to appear in the weekly NHK weekend haiku show — (though not every weekm, these days). In 2009 a DVD film was released, a 45 minute autobiography of his life (sadly with no English subtitles). Reading his works in Japanese, he is a uniquely radical poet, and remains so. If only our own ethos were as open and engaging, as it appears in some quarters in Japan. In fact, as a haiku judge here, I find that there is plenty of cultural space for various styles of haiku approach to co-exist. We certainly co-exist equitably, as judges, and everyone seems to know how to party (if elegantly). As Bashô said, “Haiku is for freedom.” I think the democratic spirit of haiku is one of the genre’s hallmarks.

      In August 2007, I presented a paper to PALA, the Poetics and Linguistics Association, published in its proceedings. What is more relevant is that a number of world-class academics in literary linguistics were so turned on by the haiku presented, they asked me to organize a haiku contest for the 5-day conference closing dinner — and it was a blast! Linguists, perhaps unsurprisingly, get turned on by new forms of excellence. One of the problems of haiku, to my mind is that the truly excellent have not been separated from the merely droll, and critically presented in appropriate forums. So I feel you are 100% wrong when it comes to “haiku or poetry.”

      The haiku I presented at PALA, and the paper are here:
      . It was a personal honor that this paper was selected by internationally known linguists and included in “Stylistic Studies of Literature” (Summer, 2008), published by Peter Lang .

      To those of us who have an appreciation of and interest in the veracity of the haiku genre in English, and in its further future, your remarks seem rather old school and to an extent, uninformed. i do agree with you though concerning visibility and integration of the haiku genre in English. One of the problems here is the lack of an acceptable critical tradition (Blyth being a real problem for academics), and a lack of cultural interplay. You’d practically have to go back to Pound to find haiku principles really turning on the poetic world. But you see, there it is. There actually is a tradition and it’s called modern poetry. So the last page isn’t writ.

    48. As no editing of my post is possible, please excuse the proofing errors. Also the software removed all url links. I post them here, hopefully:

      Tsubouchi Nenten videos:

      Stylistic Studies i Literature (Peter Lang), Publisher’s page:

      Gilbert, R., PALA 2007 presentation:
      Plausible deniability: Nature as hypothesis in English‑language haiku

      Gendai Haiku Kyoukai — Membership numbers since founding:

      Best to you,

    49. Hi Richard,
      it is great you mention Kaneko Tohta sensei. I love to watch the NHK Haiku program.

      Together with Tohta sensei, we also regularly see Inahata Teiko, granddaughter of Takahama Kyoshi, and now high in her 80th (born 1931) and quite genki too.
      The discussions of the two “grand masters” is really something to look forward. I wish it would be translated into English some day !

      She is the president of the Japan Traditional Haiku Association, director of the Kyoshi Memorial Museum and an adviser to Haiku International Association.

    50. Thank you Richard, for such a well thought out and insightful post. I hope this guides the ongoing discussion here in a more fruitful direction.

      Peter, I just wanted to say that I agree with your reading of Lorin’s “cellophane” haiku: I too love the sense of the word “cellophane” remembering itself, or perhaps the material remembering itself (in a somewhat peculiar sense), on top of the poet’s own recollection of cellophane. It’s a wonderful haiku Lorin (and for me it is a haiku, even though you, yourself, do not feel it to be so at this time).

    51. Richard, hello again. I also just wanted to say that I loved your work in the latest Roadrunner, in particular “when you dream the inside” – it has been stuck in my head and not left for a moment since I read it on the day that the issue was released. I suspect it will be with me for a very long time. Thank you.

    52. Hi Gabi, and thanks Christopher,

      I feel there are answers to Phil’s several challenges (wakeup calls?) though not always ready answers. There is the personal challenge implicit in his statement, “haiku poets would do well to stop being “haiku poets” for a while…”, a non-cuddly, instrumental provocation. Remarkable things are beginning to happen in E-L haiku — new propositions are appearing as haiku, with regards to works. In this, I concur with Jack’s comments on Lorin’s haiku, I have similar impressions.

      This second aspect of Phil’s challenge, “The relatively narrow (and necessarily hybrid) basis of the tradition of haiku in English…” — I take as a challenge to produce more extensive academic scholarship — a more integrated and coherent critical tradition (one of the reasons for this being “Position 1”, or “1b”).

      Re-reading Ezra Pound (circa 1913-1918) I wonder to what extent W.C.W. and Stevens where influenced by Pound’s Metro poem and its concepts. The poem utilizes “cutting” techniques, imagism, and disjunction as exemplified in the haiku form, and remains a tremendously important poem. It isn’t the poem alone, it’s the various critical writings, the instigation of a new tradition that are part and parcel of the poem’s importance.

      Earl miner writes:
      Haiku “made an important contribution to [Pound’s] theory and practice. It gave him material and examples for much of his theory concerning imagery, a programme or manifesto for poetry and art . . . and . . . a flexible technique which he called ‘the form of super-position.'” Pound “was attracted by the suggestive, allusive, condensed, and concrete qualities of Japanese poetry.” which “confirmed what he was already thinking and advocating.” (Miner, Earl. ‘Pound, Haiku, and the Image’. Hudson Review 9 (1956-57): 570-84; found at “”)

      Pound discovered “the unity of the image” in the Noh plays; a unity which has much to do with Pound’s conception of the condensed image, a process he describes as occurring in the Metro poem (‘How I Began’. T.P.’s Weekly, 6 June, 1913, p. 707). “Pound was able to distil the Metro poem from a longer work of ‘secondary intensity’, he writes, after having understood the ‘beauty’ of this Japanese ‘sort of knowing’. Secondly, at the beginning of a long footnote, Pound cites the nô in evidence of the possibility of a ‘long imagiste or vorticist poem’…” (Earl Miner, qtd. in “”, David Ewick, 2003.)

      First, as regards influence, Pound’s Japan-inspired innovations profoundly influenced Eliot, and strongly influenced many other movers and shakers, in particular, Yeats, H.D., Williams, and Stevens. From this brief listing one can move exponentially into various personages in a variety of modernist movements.

      Secondly, it was from the outset posited that longer works (of the first intensity) could be created utilizing conceptions and techniques drawn from modalities of superposition and unity of image, drawn in part from Japanese models, imagist dicta, etc. Once again we find various modes of synthesis throughout the 20th century, right up to contemporary poetry.

      The example of Massey’s “Flies, sun” seems as aspect of instrumental dialog, regarding literary influence; a direct response, lineal progeny.

      Much of W.C.W. seems in accord with these intimations, certainly Stevens’ “Blackbird.” In the contemporary fold, A.R. Ammons too, a poet not associated with haiku, utilizes disjunction, superposition and unity of image quite brilliantly. His poem, “A Coast of Trees” (1981) seems a veritable teaching-text on how to conceive of haiku — while not being haiku in any formal way, itself. Before this gets too long i will end by saying,

      Philip Rowland, I accept your challenge.

    53. And, speaking of influences that derive directly from haiku, all we need do is consider how Sergei Eisenstein created montage in part from the kire of haiku and the rest, so to speak, is film history.

    54. Let me be a Martian (as Walker Percy advised) and notice some general aspects of this conversation and others about haiku and haiku poetics:
      1.The conversations prompted by haiku are inseparable from haiku as a creative phenomenon.
      2. modern haiku is a popular form and draws on (and reflects) specific personal and social needs depending on the given society. It should be possible to make a comparative study of haiku in different cultures. Haiku in Belgrade are often quite different from haiku in Boston. At some level of understanding, the differences don’t matter.
      3. Modern haiku’s roots, in purely literary terms, are in the Bashō school and behind that, Chinese “river and mountain” poetry (to use David Hinton’s phrase). The spiritual traditions of haiku represent a real response to human existence and can be drawn on at any time.
      4. Haiku poetics must deal with social and existential problems of modernity and post-modernity. The problems of the person, of identity, of the status of the natural object, and so on, are often implicitly touched on in haiku. In the conversations, these and many other themes become explicit.
      5. Haiku enthusiasts draw on some profound resources and there appear to be no limits to their creativity. As a movement, it appears to be universal and there may be something about the form itself that makes it so responsive to so many different intentions.
      6. Haiku culture is a neglected global phenomenon that invites many different approaches of study–only one of which is traditional genre study: e.g., is haiku poetry. (Of course it’s poetry.)

    55. for example …

      f i s h o i l fish

      or … fishoilfish

      & nightfall still glowing beneath hiroshima


      nothing more needs to be said

      sa d

      J F

    56. Excellent work Jack Frost.
      The juxtaposition of fishoil/fish is simple and striking at once.
      So, too, the unnaturalness of nightfall glowing (though we have heavenly bodies at night, we tend to associate night with darkness not effulgence) underneath (rather than above where we expect it to be) hiroshima (the word itself evokes the unthinkable).
      Really well done haiku!

    57. And, I forgot to mention the & as a reminder of how the hauntingness continues & is connected with the other preceding and succeeding atrocities.

    58. such kind words jack g are hard to find

      in this world of republicans democrats

      us & them & traditional / gendai haiku

      & yours are truly appreciated.

      ” fish oil ” & ” glowing ” are actually

      segments of this slightly larger poem …

      Earth Day 2010












    59. I like it very much, JF. It gives the mind the time and space to consider things in-themselves; lends them a dignity they sometimes lose in conjunction with other things surrounding them. The single word per line also brings out the sound/meaning of things.
      The poem also is freeing; it allows the mind to make connections and corrections and so on as it sees fit, or as it sees its own workings; sort of allows the mind to reflect on itself (and its responsibilities).

    60. Wonderful! :-) Now we’re cooking with gas! (excuse the enthusiastic Australian cliche)

      Richard, many thanks especially for outlining the very important and pervasive influence of Pound’s ‘Japan-inspired innovations’ on C20 Western poetry and the development of ‘free verse’. As one who didn’t know that haiku existed until a little over five years ago, it hadn’t occurred to me until I did discover haiku that Pound’s much-anthologised ‘Metro’ poem was a haiku or similar, but I’ve found it to be the Western poem which most easily forms a bridge to haiku for those beginning to take interest.

      It is not, as some would have it, that ‘free verse’ is currently invading haiku (to its detriment) It is that ‘free verse’ has absorbed the influence of haiku along with the sensibility of translations from the Chinese and Japanese. We come to haiku, those of us who come to it for the first time in the C21, as something not completely strange, though we have much to learn.

      “The message . . .

      is change, presents
      no more than itself

      And the too strong grasping of it,
      when it is pressed together and condensed,
      loses it

      This very thing you are ”

      Charles Olsen, from ‘The Kingfishers’

    61. Jack, I am so happy to have your sensitive readings of my one-liners, and Peter’s, Paul Mac’s, Christopher’s and Richard’s concurrence , as well.

      “…either rain beads on a bare twig/what light there is or alternatively the rain beads (as a verb) the diffuse light, concentrating it and making it visible.”

      That is exactly as I hoped the ‘rain beads…’ one would be read, except my experience (of the little scene through my kitchen window on a dull, overcast, monotonously rainy Melbourne afternoon) was not ‘either/or’ but both the rain beads (noun) and the rain continuously forming new beads on the twig as the old ones slipped to the end and off.

      There wasn’t much light around, dull, stingy light, no direct source and I was in a dull, broody mood, yet (thanks, Peter! To me your perception is what made me write the ku) the quality of that light on the rain-beads and how it reflected around caught my attention and fascinated me: so again, both ‘what (little) light there is’ and ‘what light there is!’.

      Yet I would never have thought of the ‘cellophane remember(s) cellophane’ that Jack and others have seen in the other ku. So that’s a revelation! To me, ‘cellophane’ being an uncountable noun and therefore needing the s in ‘remembers’ would get in the way of that reading… it seems like a ‘Tontoism Mark II’ when said aloud. (Tonto know way out of here)

      It doesn’t seem to be a haiku to me because #1, it contains a simile – ‘their wings (are/ were) like…’ and #2, it seems a fragment or two related fragments without a context. Perhaps in prose the two statements might read, ‘Their wings (are/were) like cellophane. Remember cellophane? ‘ or ‘Their wings (are / were) like cellophane, remember (that). Cellophane!’ or ‘Their wings (are/ were) like cellophane. Remember cellophane.’

      (Nothing to do with this discussion, but as an aside: after submitting the ‘cellophane’ ku to Roadrunner, I did put it into the context of a ‘long’ poem which I titled, ‘Lamentation at 45°C ’. The ‘subject’ was the continuing, 13 year drought in the context of climate change, it was published in the December – and two months later we had several days straight of 45°C and the Feb. 2009 bushfires here.)

      Paul Mac, it’s interesting to me that Claire Gallager’s ‘cellophane’haiku you quote seems to have been written around 2006 or not long before. I don’t know how it is in the US, but here in Australia, cellophane on cigarette packs hasn’t been around since the 1980’s : as a packaging material, it’s been replaced by that ubiquitous, non-compostable, petroleum-based, plastic imitation of cellophane. It never deteriorates, it never goes brittle and amber with age as cellophane did, and it doesn’t make a nice, loud rustling sound. You can’t throw it on the fire, like you could cellophane. We can still buy cellophane for gift-wrapping purposes, but one day, if things continue as they are, it will be as gone as some insects which used to be are gone now.

      Ps: the kind of wings I had in mind were dragonflies’, damselflies’…well, even mosquitoes… the shiny, light-catching, transparent sort of wings, but of course it’s up to readers to decide what wings are like cellophane in any way, and why no species name is given in my ku.

      Now, Jack Frost…this is stunning! ‘fishoilfish’. These generic fish, not even having a species name any more, known only by the product that industry uses them for. The thing itself gradually slips from memory: it’s life habits, what it looks like, where, in the world’s rivers or oceans, it is found . . .even the name/s. We are a long way from cod liver oil, already here, aren’t we? Still further from any contact with the life of the things we use.


      & nightfall still glowing beneath hiroshima

    62. Lorin:
      I did not read your second haiku as meaning cellophane remembers cellophane.
      Reread my reading.
      My reading is not a tantoism.
      The subject is wings, which requires “remember” as the proper verb form; “like cellophane” is an adjectival phrase.

    63. Hi Jack, my apologies for my misreading of your post.

      I see that what you wrote is: “the unnamed insect . . .remembers that the industrial product has its origins in cellulose.” And I’m guessing you don’t mean that the insect remembers, either.

      Perhaps I’ve also misread Peter’s “…the (I believe) dominant sense of cellophane remembering cellophane”, since I’ve gone back and reread the subsequent, (qualifying?) part “… has a kind of *language* (Armantroutian?) element, the word “cellophane” remembering itself…” as well?

      My guess is that the origin of my misreading is in a difference in ordinary expression between our two Englishes, or perhaps it might be a difference in register?

      …’remembers’ in both the context of your post and Peter’s perhaps meaning something like ‘reminds us that’?

      ‘Divided by a common language’ again?

    64. … ‘remembers’ in context of what both you and Peter say meaning something like ‘prompts us to remember’, ‘reminds us’?

    65. “The subject is wings, which requires “remember” as the proper verb form; “like cellophane” is an adjectival phrase.” – Jack

      ah, I see what you read, now! “Their wings…remember cellophane.” “Their wings, (which are) like cellophane, remember cellophane.”

      Perfectly valid! And it hadn’t occurred to me…duh.

    66. Well, Lorin, it’s a “difficult” haiku, so I did my best to give it an unconscious or pre-conscious meaning.

    67. Lorin’s reference to Pound is careful not to claim too much for Pound regarding haiku. Historical studies make all sorts of claims (remember “The Pound Era”?). For a judicious critique of this tradition of juxtaposition in contemporary context, see Edward Larrissy, Reading Twentieth-Century Poetry: The Language of Gender and Objects (Blackwell, 1990).

    68. Thanks for the suggested reading, Tom. If anyone has read the recent book Haiku and Modernist Poetics, by Yoshinobu Hakutani (Palgrave, 2009), I’d be interested to hear what/whether it added regarding Pound. The book description says only (unrevealingly) that it “reveals Ezra Pound’s imagism to have originated in haiku”.

      To follow up Richard’s recommendation of A Coast of Trees, there’s also The Really Short Poems of A.R. Ammons (Norton, 1990). “Epigram, haiku, koan, imagist snapshot, proverb, aphorism, motto; Ammons’s compressed, honed, precise lyrics now suggest one; now another of these genres.” To take one at random:


      A silver jet,
      riding the top of tundra clouds,
      comes over
      maybe from Rio:
      the aluminum sun shines
      on it
      as if it were a natural creature.

      This strikes me as owing much to Reznikoff – e.g., his “Rails in the subway” and “smoky winter morning” (from 1934) – one among the “various personages in a variety of modernist movements” (in this case, the “Objectivists”) that Richard mentions in relation to Pound’s “Japan-inspired innovations”.

    69. Hi Lorin,

      I see there’s been plenty of discussion regarding the cellophane poem so I’d just like to elaborate my original passing comments on it now.

      I always found your cellophane ku to have two primary possible readings:

      a) their wings like cellophane [,] remember cellophane [?]

      (this was actually the second interpretation for me, noth the first, though it doesn’t really matter which way round they came)

      b) their wings [,] like cellophane [,] remember cellophane

      In the second reading, the sense emerges that the wings are *somehow* remembering cellophane. (I think this is also the reading out of which Peter’s “language” interpretation emerges, something which I also find very satisfying.)

      It is also possible to understand this as “their wings remember cellophane, in the same manner that cellophane also remembers cellophane”.

      The enigmatic nature of this statement, which makes one wonder just how an insect’s wings, or cellophane itself, might remember anything, is very powerful. For some it may be dismissed as nonsense but I find it generates all sorts of interesting thoughts about how we might understand our reality, or how that reality may relate to itself.

    70. Philip, the Hakutani was disappointing; it’s around here somewhere. Poets who read widely will put it down with a shrug, whereas the Larrissy is full of perceptive comments and discoveries. His reading of Charles Tomlinson should is especially valuable for haiku poets who wrestle with the issue of “the embodied self.” In this regard, see Wentworth’s superb review of John Stevenson’s new book in the summer issue of MH. While you are at it, read Matt Cariello on metaphor: now THAT is a foundational piece of haiku poetics!

    71. Thank you, Christopher, for your further comments. Since Jack pointed out that I’d misread his comments, and I finally saw what he meant, this has all been a revelation to me!

      I have to say that I’m glad I posted that ‘cellophane’ one here because the discussion clears up a sense I’ve always had that there was something eluding me about that ku, that it was incomplete and unsatisfactory. I’d never quite understood why this ku, compared to some others I wrote about the same time, was published and commented on.

      If I’d been considering it primarily as non-haiku, plain Western verse, ‘wings remembering cellophane’ would’ve stood out like the proverbial dog’s hind leg! I probably wouldn’t have considered submitting it anywhere, since I’m still coming to terms with the more ‘surreal’ (for want of a better word) possibilities in haiku and back then when I wrote it had hardly begun, and had a lot of resistance to such possibilities.

      Perhaps I should be embarrassed about this… well, I am a little bit ;-) it’s a bit like a Freudian slip. . . but I am really glad it came to light, not only because I understand my own ku better (!) but I’ve gained a very clear insight into my self-censoring process!

      Jack…a case of “unconscious or pre-conscious meaning”… yes, it would certainly seem so! (It’ll be a wonder if my words here don’t all come out blush pink)

      Many thanks to you all, Jack, Peter, Paul Mac and Christopher.

      – Lorin

    72. Thanks for the book mentions, they are invaluable. It would be quite a good thing to be able to discuss books, and quote from sections of books. Also to create a more permanent annotated, categorized bibliography, for explorative study.

      i think we may each have certain deep influences, partly from reading, partly from reading books that through contemplation have changed us. (Heidegger’s “Poetry, Language, Thought” comes to mind).

      Yes, Phil, I too have the Objectivists in mind — & to mention Louis Zukofsky, a poet Pound and much (too much) later, Allen Ginsberg championed, and Robert Creeley. Pound was impressed by his early “Poem Beginning ‘The'” (1927, pseudonym Dunn Wyth) and put him in touch with WCW (hence Reznikoff, Oppen). See the wiki page.

      “The poem caught the eye of Ezra Pound, who had all but co-authored T.S. Eliot’s Waste Land, the poem Zukofsky’s “The” was, in a way, satirizing. Pound, then editor of The Exile, one of many small magazines dedicated to publishing the highly unprofitable work of modernist writers, received “The” as a submission…” (Eric Hoffman, “An Examination of Louis Zukofsky • Part One,” in /Mental Contagion/ “Examinations”)

      “Only emotion objectified endures.” — Louis Zukofsky

    73. Off-topics, but as there is no other place to put this, a further quotation of Objectivist origins, form the same Hoffman article mentioned above:

      During this time [just after graduating Columbia with an MA, 1926, Zukofsky] became enamored of Pound’s writings, particularly his essays and articles on poetics and sent Pound his /Poem beginning “The”/ which Pound published in his 1928 issue of The Exile. The poem caught the attention of William Carlos Williams, to whom Ezra Pound had introduced Zukofsky, and a young George Oppen, who at the age of nineteen had arrived in New York City with his wife Mary, in search of living poets. Oppen read “The” in an aisle at the Gotham Book Mart and by chance met Zukofsky later that night at a party. Zukofsky in turn introduced Oppen to Charles Reznikoff, an older, mostly unknown Jewish poet whom Zukofsky had read in the small magazines and had come to know and admire. A group of like-minded poets was beginning to form and would find its program in a February 1931 issue of Poetry edited by Zukofsky, titled “Program: ‘Objectivists’.” With quotes firmly locking the irony in place, he later insisted that the idea of a movement was demanded by the magazine’s publisher Harriet Monroe, looking to capitalize on the “marketability” of a visible poetic school, a lesson well-learned by the success of the Imagiste group published in her magazine over fifteen years earlier. Pound, an avid self-promoter and believer in the benefits of group-based poetics, was in support of the idea. Zukofsky, who had written a lengthy essay on Reznikoff’s poetic style, with the intent on publishing it in the pages of the /Jewish Menorah Journal/ where he had first read Reznikoff, shortened the essay and focused on two qualities he found in the poet’s work, “sincerity” and “objectification.”

    74. A point to keep in mind, when considering the objectivists in comparison and contrast with imagism and haiku:

      “Objectivist verse owed a great deal to imagism. Indeed, in his preface to An “Objectivists” Anthology Zukofsky quoted Pound’s 1912 Imagist credo: “direct treatment of the ‘thing’ whether subjective or objective.” But in two respects objectivist poetry went beyond imagism. First, unlike such imagists as Amy Lowell, most of the objectivists were unwilling to treat the poem simply as a transparent window through which one could perceive the objects of the world. Rather the objectivists wanted, as Zukofsky declared in his Poetryessay “Sincerity and Objectification,” to see the “poem as object,” calling attention to itself by, for example, deliberate syntactic fragmentation and by line breaks that disrupt normal speech rhythm. Second, following Pound’s poetic practice of the 1920s, the objectivist poets were at least as much interested in historic particulars as they were in immediate sensory images. All the objectivists shared Pound’s aspiration to create a “poem containing history”; and Pound’s incorporation into his Cantos of various historic documents showed these poets a way of incorporating history into their poems without violating the principle of objectivity.”

      But I’d like to add the memorable opening lines of Oppen’s poem “Of Being Numerous”:

      There are things
      We live among ‘and to see them
      Is to know ourselves’.

    75. Tom, thanks for the advice on the Hakutani book; and the further sense of Larrissy’s — I’ll seek it out. Good to hear it includes some discussion of Tomlinson (whose book, incidentally, Some Americans, is well worth reading as a “personal record” of Williams, Moore, Oppen, O’Keeffe, Zukofsky, Pound). I’ll also watch out for the reviews in the latest MH, which arrived this afternoon.

      Excuse my digression, but I’m tempted to quote an enjoyably provocative passage from Riding and Graves’s Survey [perhaps the first of its kind] of Modernist Poetry (1927):

      Modern poetry of the dead-movement sort, of which Imagism is a complete example, bears a resemblance to the ‘artistic’ tea-room where the customer finds himself besieged by orange curtains, Japanese prints, painted furniture, art-china instead of the plain white service of the ordinary restaurant, and conversational waitresses in smocks who give the personal touch with a cultured accent. As a result, the plain eater goes back to his corner restaurant and the tearoom becomes a dead movement. Modernist, as distinct from modern poetry is, at it most uncompromising, neither the corner restaurant nor the tea-room. It seems inaccessible to the plain reader: the approach to it is like the front of a private residence and he is afraid that he is expected to lunch personally with the poet. So in this case again he goes back to the corner restaurant where he can at least reduce the personality of the waiters to a minimum. Actually, if the plain reader could conquer his initial self-consciousness before it he would find an interior in which it should be possible to be on completely unembarrassed and impersonal terms with poetry: he would find himself alone with it. But this is only theoretically possible. For the plain reader does not really want to be left all alone with poetry (pp. 135-6).

    76. “The problem: “haiku writing is a practice that’s easy to take up, but very difficult to get anywhere in.”

      The problem, and a solution of sorts:

      “Haiku-like haiku aren’t particularly bad. But haiku that don’t seem haiku-like at all—nowadays that’s the kind I’m after.”

      —Santoka (trans. Burton Watson)

      Or: perhaps haiku poets would do well to stop being “haiku poets” for a while; .” – Philip

      On a light note, Philip, but I don’t think this (found by accident, just before ). Paraphrasing Santoka – ” Zen-like zen isn’t particularly bad. But zen that doesn’t seem zen-like at all ….”

      Enjoy! ;-)

    77. whoops… the disappearing end of a sentence. It should be : On a light note, Philip, but I don’t think this (found by accident, just before ) is entirely irrelevant”

    78. ok, maybe Mr Happiness isn’t a Zen monk, but another sort of Buddhist monk. . . I don’t really know, but I’m still smiling.

    79. He came up when I googled ‘nothing special – Zen’, …as in the link above.

      his rap is heard
      in the whole wild world …
      laughing Buddha

      yep, nice. Japanese tradition isn’t set in stone, then, as demonstrated by Mr Happiness ;-) The spirit, rather than the form?

    80. Thanks for the link to the video, Lorin – good stuff! I may have to track down that bar. A half of heaven and hell sounds like just the thing to wash down my nothing special.

    81. Phil,

      i would like to further illustrate a certain query, concerning EL haiku & literary reframing. As you wrote:

      “…Most of the objectivists were unwilling to treat the poem simply as a transparent window through which one could perceive the objects of the world. Rather the objectivists wanted, as Zukofsky declared in his Poetry essay “Sincerity and Objectification,” to see the “poem as object” . . . . the objectivist poets were at least as much interested in historic particulars as they were in immediate sensory images.”

      Accordingly, in the above, the entire shasei program (objective description as central poetic) is sidelined. However the shasei-program was an artificial limitation placed upon EL haiku; there are a number of exceptions to this type of formula, right from the 1950s.

      At issue is not only what haiku have been — rather also the prospect of an integrative and wider reframing. To play devil’s advocate , I would like to quote once more Lorin’s haiku:

      their wings like cellophane remember cellophane

      a ku which grabbed me when I read it in Roadrunner. I’ve included it in a shortlist of ku presented to students in this year’s (Kumamoto University) haiku seminar. How might his ku align, in retrospect, with Objectivist poetics? There seem some surprising connections. For me, cellophane recalls not only a complex technological world, but also its history. And the play of word and repetition is akin to LANGUAGE poetry (itself strongly influenced by Objectivist poetics). Zukofsky’s disjunct “The” finds company in a subjectless “their.”

      Knowingly or not, this work arises out of a complex literary landscape (atmosphere, ethos, secret or revealed earth), subverting imagism, objective; is historical, provocatively languaged. The ku contains multiple traces (engrams) of history — it’s a condensation of significant aspects of western poetics. And arguably more in kinship with these strands than whatever might be labeled “Japanese.”

      I think it’s time we began looking closer at new connotations for what has been called “haiku tradition.” I think we must re-write it.

      At the same time, I don’t think Lorin’s poem works as well outside the prevailing hermeneutics of the haiku context. The poem needs time to gether; its read speed and brevity matched by reader-pause; sensitivity to interstices brought by kire and ma — these delicate dislocations; “betweenness” of time, space and consciousness. As the sonnet requires a mental shift, schooling in its rhythmic world.

      (Pardon me Lorin, for usurping your work as a talking point. I think your ku does represet an edge — a controversial range. Yet I see it working right into what is most powerful in EL haiku.)

    82. . . . I’m honoured, Richard.

      I have heard of Zukofsky, (though not read his poems) to the extent that I bought his book, 2nd hand, a couple of years ago: ‘Bottom: On Shakespeare’, on the strength of the promising title. But have to admit I haven’t begun to read it; it looks so daunting. Maybe I will, now.

    83. Like Lorin, I haven’t read Bottom: On Shakespeare, but have enjoyed Zukofsky’s Complete Short Poetry – perhaps more accessible? From which (in a mode close to Imagist) this, from the ’40s or early ’50s:

      Not the branches
      half in shadow

      But the length
      of each branch

      Half in shadow

      As if it had snowed
      on each upper half

    84. Having quoted one of Zukofsky’s more visual, “imagist” poems, I should add that Objectivism, in general, may not simply be situated “in a smooth line of development from Imagism,” according to Peter Nicholls writing on another “Objectivist” poet, George Oppen (whose work has meant much to me). “For whereas Imagism was absolutely founded on a subject-object dualism, what Oppen now saw himself attempting entailed a much more fundamental reaction to customary modes of thinking, and it was here that his earlier poems seemed to him to resonate with Heidegger’s systematic critique of modern subjectivity and the technology that ‘enframes’ it. Against the idea of a ‘distanced’ subject, aloof from the world in its objectivity and intent on manipulating and judging what is before it, Heidegger – and Oppen with him – seeks an elision of thinking with being. We are dealing, then, not with ‘representation,’ with ‘letting something take up a position opposite to us, as object’ (Existence and Being, 328), but with an event – the emergence of a ‘world’ – in which things come into their own as beings rather than simply presenting themselves as available for human ends. …..
      Here, perhaps, we might also understand Oppen’s departure from the emphasis placed on the verb as transfer of energy by Pound and Ernest Fenollosa, for that syntactical model can only endlessly reaffirm the subject-object dualism which, in Oppen’s view, it is poetry’s function to overcome.”

      I have quoted Nicholls on Oppen at length because, first, the “overcoming” of subject-object dualism is often seen as a function of haiku – a more noun- than verb-centred poetry; and second, because for Oppen the elision of thinking and being does NOT mean objective realism – a thought which may tie in with Richard’s point about the “shasei-program” being “an artificial limitation placed on E-L haiku.” That this “limitation” is still thought to be essential by some (even many?) writers of E-L haiku is indicated by some recent assertions made in the Quicksilver thread of this blog, including the following: “Words of a haiku should be as transparent ‘as sand seen through a clear stream’ (Bashō). The picture (diorama) is the goal of a haiku – not the sculptural quality of language.” There are many published haiku in English which complicate this view of haiku as simply pictorial, its words “transparent” – Lorin’s recently discussed “cellophane” haiku is a case in point. And one need only open an anthology of modern Japanese haiku to find examples that further contradict such dogma. (Takayanagi Shigenobu, one of the more progressive modern haiku poets, even “sought,” according to Masaya Saito in Modern Haiku, Summer ’98, “to encounter a certain language cosmos that transcends reality in order to conjure up ‘the world that reveals itself only once and for the first time through written language'” – in contrast, in his view, to “orthodox haiku poets, most of whose works are a sort of predetermined translation or summary of what they perceive.”)

      But my main point here is to suggest that Objectivism – at least, in Oppen’s case – departs from Imagism in a sense that accords with the “traditional” E-L haiku aesthetic (“overcoming” subject-object dualism), but that E-L haiku, insofar as it narrowly delimits language by insisting on transparency, fails to follow through, falling back on “enframed” subjectivity.

    85. Philip:
      Perhaps, you can help me.
      Long ago and far away (in the 11th Sails) a long debate ensued about what a definition of modern haiku might look like.
      I took a stab at it and I’m afraid my efforts were largely neglected (it happens sometimes; not every cluster of wild corn growing by the roadside will entice a poem).
      I sought to introduce Heidegger’s view of the “word” and “world” as a means of defining haiku.
      I admit I was not satisfied because I had left out of my definition haiku/poems that have as their “subject” the “subject” as the place where the world originates. I also sensed that for Heidegger, it was in drawing what lay “outside” into the “world,” which is a human place, that “things” “existed” for the first time.
      Let me give you my definition and perhaps you can help me to see Heidegger as proposing something other than consciousness (human) raising the “world” (all definitions of this word, even etymologically, define this as the human habitation of meaning) and therefore transcending the duality of subject/object, but only insofar as the object enters upon appearance into “our” “world.”

      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

    86. Jack, I find many of your above remarks largely agreeable, and have been having similar thoughs of my own recently. It’s interesting to know that you’ve had such thoughts too.

      Philip, Oppen is a very important poet to me too, and Nicholls’ book is a fantastic resource on Oppen. I read it just recently, and enjoyed it immensely.

    87. Chris:
      I’m glad to hear you’ve been thinking along similar lines. I feel a little less lonely.
      I think Heidegger, at least as regards poetry, did not regard naming/words as transparences.
      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. So, poetry, language, if you will, mediates the world, or, obversely, the “world” is always mediated.
      I rather like the quote above regarding Takayanagi Shigenobu.
      That strikes me as being precisely right.
      However, that does not free us from the fact that the “object” exists only insofar as it is brought into “worldhood of the world.” I think I would substitute parallels for “transcends.” But,somehow, I still feel there is no way around a kind of appropriation of the “object,” even if we “actually” do it no harm.
      Perhaps, that is where our responsibility begins.

      1. Hi Jack,

        certainly no need to feel lonely. I'd like to discuss this further, but I've got a hectic schedule for the next week, maybe two. After that, perhaps we can talk a little more.



    88. Jack, yes, I think you’re right to emphasize naming – naming what is “holy”, which for Heidegger is the essence of poetry, in turn the essence of language – as opposed to words as transparencies, means of imitation, or representation (“a sort of predetermined translation or summary” of what is perceived, to recall Takayanagi Shigenobu’s criticism). And right also to feel that “there is no way around a kind of appropriation of the ‘object’, even if we ‘actually’ do it no harm”, a concern which also chimes, for me, with Heidegger’s thinking. Your word “appropriation” relates interestingly to H’s word “propriation”, Ereignis, customarily translated as “event” according to the editor of H’s Basic Writings, who explains that “the most treacherous turn on the way to language occurs when we first hear talk of propriation. Because propriation smacks of property and appropriation, we can easily misunderstand it as one aspect of man’s assault on being – as an element of the aggrandizing essence of technology. To be sure, propriation does bear a special relation to the essence [italicised] of technology. Yet propriation is not subject to human calculation; it is rather what is sent as the historical destiny of mortals. The hardest lesson to learn is that the owning is not ours, except perhaps in one sense.”

      In your definition of haiku, you use the phrase “resplendence”, to which I’d like to add “vividness” and “extreme rawness”, words Oppen uses to describe Heidegger’s awareness of the world.

      Good to hear there’s a shared interest in Oppen, Christopher. One of the things that appeals to me is his lack of complacency, which in the poems leads to the plumbing of greater depths (not least, of silence) than may be found in poems that do little more than summarize observations, if evocatively.

      The serial nature of many of his poems (and that of other “objectivists”) also seems important. The more “imagist” or haiku-like short poems of Oppen’s and Zukofky’s and Reznikoff’s (such as the one by LZ quoted above) usually occur within a series that gives a more complex sense of the world and its historic particulars than we find in haiku sequences.

      1. Hi Philip,

        Yes I certainly agree regarding the matter of complacency – his constant questioning and awareness of the limitations of knowledge (including his own) – which ties in with his particular 'sincerity' – a sincerity different from his objectivist peers perhaps?

        As I've just mentioned to Jack below, I'm extremely tied up at the moment so don't have the time to engage fully in discussion here, but I should do soon so I hope we can talk further about Oppen.



    89. I’m going to post something I had written several days ago, prior to Philip’s recent’s posts, and following Richard’s. It is incomplete as thought, but I wanted to start it, and see if any here feel it corresponds to what Richard, Philip, Jack are saying. Here goes:
      I don’t know how connected what I have to say is to what you present Richard, but I seem incapable of not adding something. I have not studied the Objectivists, so this comes in flashes more than in what can be fleshed out. (My understanding grows around me like pebbles, micaglints and bits of glass that a larval caddisfly gathers around it and eventually outgrows, to gather perhaps less substantial material to dwell in).
      So I will take “poem as object” as just what I find here, in those words, and how they reach me. Perhaps akin to the many over time who have declared, more or less, that a poem is not meant to mean, but is meant to be, I would say that I see a poem as an object no more or less than I see a tree, or windstorm, or dead dog as an object. Each is an arising into/out of and as consciousness. (Like Meister Eckhart and other mystics, one might say an arising out of each instant of consciousness, uncaused by any previousness).

      Seems haiku is more available to this understanding than other form/genres may be—or that may be my prejudice and imposition. In this way of looking, a poem is a sensory object, a collection of marks against a background—an appearance. Then, if prompted to speak, the reader/experiencer will experience a series of sounds in reading out loud. In this way, the poem is an object: looked at and listened to as any object in nature. Probably this has something to do with LANGUAGE poetry, but that too I have only glimpsed, and like conceptual art, find limited.

      But what makes a poem more than an object? Or a tree, or a human being? Is it that we are able to find and give it meaning? Is it that it has historicity, that words themselves have pasts and strata?

      I think it may be more than that. A commonly held view of consciousness is that it is solely a phenomenon (an epiphenomenon) of the brain. But another view has it that the brain is not an object separate from the world, (isolated, somehow, what would it be?) and that consciousness arises out of a greater.. what?… sphere, totality? So neither does a poem exist separate from other “objects”, it arises out of a totality. What makes one poem “work” and another not work is another matter, and my thoughts about that start to get pretty messy, so…).

      What I hope to come back to look at, and invite, is when this kind of exploration in poetry is a beholding of it (about it) and when it comes from it, when it comes from the embodiment of presence.

      1. Thanks for the stimulating thoughts, Peter. Just a brief note on the Objectivists' sense of the "poem as object": as craft, I think, primarily. The editor of the Bloodaxe anthology of their work writes that they wanted to give a sense of the poem as "something to be practised, tried over, improved upon" – something practical. Another possibly significant characteristic, in relation to haiku, is "the open-endedness of the whole project", for "although many of the poems are exquisite miniatures, nonetheless several of the poets had ambitions for long poems and for bringing together literary and documentary forms. The combined achievements of these seven Objectivist poets [including Rukeyser, Rexroth and Niedecker] make the precepts and practices of Imagism seem static and imbued with retrospection." (I suppose this sense of the "static" is somewhat similar to my sense of the "same", in my position-statement.) Oops, I've been quoting again, but like you, Peter, I haven't formally "studied" the Objectivists, am just a reader, and so trust the statements of these others more than I would my own!

        There's a passage in Bruce Ross's intro to Haiku Moment to do with "the union of the subject and the object," by the way (p. xxii).

    90. ” But what makes a poem more than an object? Or a tree, . . .”

      The first poem I ever read comes to mind, the words over a woodblock print of an English tree, large postcard size, in a little glass frame on a doily next my grandmother’s wireless (radio):

      “I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree”

      I later dismissed it as a not very good poem, but clearly it has remained in my memory and I recall loving that first line as a small child: I even recall saying it to my special banksia tree and my favourite ti-tree, testing it, as I sat quietly up on a branch among the leaves.I think it was because the very idea that a poem could be compared to a tree intrigued me, though it seemed silly (I’d probably say ‘absurd’ now), since a poem was only words, however nice, and a tree was an entity (not a thing, like a house or even like a piece of driftwood) and there were trees I knew very well. They were nothing like poems, or like speaking, or like thinking, which are things we do or that someone has done.

      A poem is of such a different order of things than a tree. How can a poem be more than a tree? Maybe a poem can evoke a sense of relationship to a tree that a reader recognises and empathises with, and another poem doesn’t do this very well.

      1. Dave has indicated that browsers other than IE may present problems. Safari is for me.

        1. … mine’s Firefox. I’m glad things have returned to normal. I couldn’t access anything but the first pages of posts yesterday, no matter what I did. It *said* it was downloading the pages, but after several trails,one lasting of 40 minutes and still no success, I felt it was time to give up.

    91. Dave, I'm having a similar problem. It's difficult now to find where the most recent post is located.
      I'll use the contact you provided to Chris.

    92. I think that that I shall never see

      Poem fragment by Joyce Kilmer — stuck in my memory courtesy of Mrs. Lavinnia P. Nuckolls, my 8th Grade English teacher. Who said (I did) that I knew little of poetry other than haiku, renku, etc.? She also had as a "favorite poet, she said, John Masefield of whom I only remember: Down to the seas in ships …

      I still do not know most of even the names you all seem so familiar with.

      Perhaps it was Mrs. Nuckolls' less than tender touch that put me off much poetry? . . . rescued by haiku?

      1. Hi Paul,

        You're not the only one who has limited interest and knowledge of poetry other than haiku and haiku related forms. Only a few poems remain in my memory (I should say fragments) The Ancient Mariner, The Highway Man, The Raven, and of course, Trees. Haiku, tanka, haibun, etc. are enough of a challange and a joy after nearly 40 years of reading and writing to be my only poetic interest. I don't think my haiku has not been influenced by other forms, since I seldom read them. Haiku is unique and should remain true to what it is and not become something else.

        If that makes for a closed mind, then…so be it.


    93. “Haiku, tanka, haibun, etc. are enough of a challange and a joy after nearly 40 years of reading and writing to be my only poetic interest. I don’t think my haiku has not been influenced by other forms, since I seldom read them. Haiku is unique and should remain true to what it is and not become something else.”
      -Adelaide (Shaw)

      Adelaide, I enjoyed your recent talk on your long involvement in reading and writing haiku. Thank you. You related to us the story of a prior introduction to Charles and Ray Eames’ architecture, furniture, and short movies, and spoke of how the latter in particular may have primed you for an appreciation of haiku. And so your haiku has been influenced by other art forms. Have you ever listened to popular music or any music with words? If so, I would guess you remember the lyrics. Song lyrics can be poetry, usually popular poetry, poetry for the people, but then haiku is often called the same.

      When you write, “Haiku is unique and should remain true to what it is and not become something else.” I’m not sure how to read your meaning. The statement could be a coin with two sides. You are welcome to work in any way you choose. Are you, on the other hand, saying you disapprove of those who choose to be influenced by poems from other genres, and who allow traces of those influences into the language of their haiku?

      I’ve addressed this comment to Adelaide, but I would be curious to hear from Paul (MacNeil) or anyone else who might share Adelaide’s point of view.

    94. “Haiku is unique and should remain true to what it is
      and not become something else.

      If that makes for a closed mind, then . . .so be it.


      I second this, Adelaide.

    95. “Haiku is unique and should remain true to what it is
      and not become something else.”

      “… true to what it is …” To be frank, I am astonished by such certainty and sense of entitlement. But to respond briefly to the last part of the comment: doesn’t a concurrent interest in “something else” arise naturally from the fact that we’re talking about haiku conceived in a language other than Japanese (and so, inevitably, influenced by or at least related to poetry in English of the past and present)?

      I apologize if I’m jumping the gun. Probably an answer to Mark’s question will help to clarify:

      “Are you, on the other hand, saying you disapprove of those who choose to be influenced by poems from other genres, and who allow traces of those influences into the language of their haiku?”

    96. “Haiku is unique and should remain true to what it is and not become something else. ”

      hmmm… the trouble is, even if it were true that haiku is unique, this becomes circular since ‘what it is’ begs the question ‘what is haiku?’ all over again.

      Simply translating Japanese haiku into English changes it from what it is into something other. Haiku originally written in English cannot be haiku ‘as it is’ in Japan.

      Even in Japan, haiku has not stayed true to what it was. Where would haiku in Japan be if Basho had stayed true to what renga had been in preceding times? If Shakespeare had been of the mind that a play in English should remain true to what a play was considered to be and observed the Classical Unities, we’d have missed out on some great work, too.

      This is not at all to say that Adelaide or anyone else should change their very fine approach to writing haiku, but simply to point out that it isn’t today’s haiku poets, nor today’s haiku theorists and critics who will decide what haiku is for any future age. There is room for different approaches to EL haiku, and the Japanese in general seem to have made room for different approaches to haiku, too.

      There is no doubt in my mind that contemporary EL haiku has been influenced by Modern poetry in English, whether individual haiku writers are aware of this or not. The most recent two great movements in English language poetry, the Romantic and the Modern, continue to have pervasive influence on our sensibilities in general and on our approach to poetry. I suspect, too, that contemporary haiku in Japan has also been influenced by Modern poetry, (initially a Western phenomenon with some Eastern influences) as the work of Hokusai was influenced by Realism in the visual arts.

      And this is without even considering that film, cinema, had a huge influence on the development of Modern poetry after the First World War. Eliot’s ‘The Wasteland’ is probably the ‘landmark’ poem, but not the only one. I sometimes wonder whether we in the West would’ve grasped haiku prior to the advent of the cinema and mass exposure to it.

      “One of the ideals that Basho espoused toward the end of his life was that of the “unchanging and the ever-changing” (fueki ryuko). The “unchanging” implied the need to seek the “truth of poetic art” (fuga no makoto), particularly in the poetic and spiritual tradition, to engage in the vertical axis, while the “ever changing” referred to the need for constant change and renewal, the source of which was ultimately to be found in everyday life, in the horizontal axis. ”

      Haruo Shirane, ‘ Beyond the Haiku Moment: Basho, Buson and Modern Haiku myths

    97. To answer Mark regarding my statement…”I don’t think my haiku has been influenced by other forms…” (I had mistakenly written had not)

      Perhaps, I should amend that. I don’t think I have directly and knowingly been influenced. That is, I don’t set out to read other forms of poetry or to view art to see how these other forms can influence my haiku. I don’t look
      at an abstract painting to see how I can make my haiku abstract. I don’t read much other forms of poetry, and, when I do, I don’t read them with the intent of adapting these forms to haiku.

      And yes, I have listened to popular songs. The lyrics rhyme and are often repetitious. Have they influenced my haiku? I don’t think so. My haiku don’t rhyme and I try to avoid repetition.

      As I said in my talk I was drawn to haiku immediately as soon as I discovered it. My class with Corita Kent and my intro to Charles and Rae Eames’ work made me observant of all things around me, large and small. This, as you say, primed me for writing haiku and haiku, with its ability to depict details, has primed me to look for details in creative endeavors, whether it be a painting, a sculpture, a garden, a work of fiction, a poem…

      Of course, we are always influenced by outside elements, knowingly or not: the death of someone, the weather, the economy, etc., and these influences affect our moods and our poetry. Other people’s haiku have influenced and inspired me, not to copy, but to strive harder, be more particular about words chosen, more precise in imagery, etc.

      Haiku has branched out like a tree with many limbs. Granted, I’ve gone out on some of the limbs. I have written some shorter haiku and haiku with no kigo or even a reference to nature. I suppose I’ve done this because others have, and these other poets have done so because of the influence of other forms of poetry. So, in the end, I suppose I, too, have been influenced by other art forms, if not directly, then 2nd hand.

      I don’t disapprove of those who choose to be influenced by other poetic forms. As you said, people are welcome to work on any form they wish. I may not like some of these haiku, but then, others may not like my many haiku which follow the “old traditions.” I am concerned that the many haiku I write in the “old tradition” will eventually become an exception and “quaint.”

      Have you ever seen a true mongrel dog? The mongrel came from two other mongrels which came from two other mongrels and so on. This particular mongrel, except for looking like a dog, bears no resemblance to the original dog. I am concerned that haiku, influenced by so many other forms of poetry, will eventually only resemble a haiku in being three lines.

      A recent haiku book sold in bookstores: VAMPIRE HAIKU, by Ryan Mecum. He sticks with the 5/7/5 form throughout. These are from his book:

      My tongue has trouble
      licking the blood off my lips
      due to my sharp teeth.

      Mostly pools of blood
      are actually just puddles.
      A pool would be great!


      1. Adelaide, thanks for fleshing out your thoughts regarding outside influences on elh. You write,

        “Have you ever seen a true mongrel dog? The mongrel came from two other mongrels which came from two other mongrels and so on. This particular mongrel, except for looking like a dog, bears no resemblance to the original dog. I am concerned that haiku, influenced by so many other forms of poetry, will eventually only resemble a haiku in being three lines.”

        As far as many Japanese (who for the most part still write one-line haiku) are concerned, elh is already in the impure state into which you fear we will devolve.

        Me, I’ve always been fond of mongrels.

      2. “VAMPIRE HAIKU, by Ryan Mecum.
        He sticks with the 5/7/5 form throughout.
        These are from his book:

        My tongue has trouble
        licking the blood off my lips
        due to my sharp teeth.

        Mostly pools of blood
        are actually just puddles.
        A pool would be great!”

        This morning in the Japan times, we get a treat of
        Farewell haiku for Hatoyama

        Morality down
        Your money’s toilet paper
        Pecunia non olet

        Servants gulp my tax
        Perverted indifference
        This cancer eats all

        Yellow ever bright
        Their lacking colorless guts
        Our true mimosa

        and so on and on …

        They might have labeled them senryu, but no …


        1. Gabi,

          The author of the above-mentioned book might be pleased at your willingness to provide him free publicity. However, you have missed my point. I do not appreciate his poems. I’m mistrustful of your desire to demote some haiku to mongrel status or to enforce an ideal of purity.

    98. Rather surprised to read here how many haiku poets seem content to turn their backs on ‘conventional’ poetry. What a shame. That’s like passing through a glorious garden, riotous with bloom, bush and tree, and seeing only the freesias, or the heliobore. and ignoring all the rest as inferior trash. It’s like a student of English literature deigning only to read sonnets. Ignorance is one thing. Such deliberate ignorance is another.

      There is a dangerous tendency for the haiku crowd to retreat and isolate themselves, while assuming, probably largely out of laziness, that they are above the crowd of such second rate hacks as Homer, Shakespeare, Moliere, Melville and Whitman. The complacent arrogance displayed here is positively mind blowing.

      Poets’ Corner?
      I’m content with my niche
      in the Haiku Registry crypt

    99. Not to debate too much and nothing is meant as personal — to Gary Eaton,

      I have read or seen most of Shakespeare, seen and read a few plays of Moliere (poems?), 3 or 4 of Melville’s novels, he wrote poetry?, read Homer and still do, also Whitman, Longfellow, Poe, etc. But Gary, I get no kick from the champagne of most more Modern poetry (however that is defined by others than I). I read very widely as a child, most of the major novels in my language, but I have never really liked poetry… and still do not have wide-ranging tastes. Other than in school, I never wrote any or wanted to… until haiku. I also like haibun which includes haiku, I dabble in Tanka, and write a lot of renku. To make a point, not strictly my own position… see previous sentence … the wonderful Haiku poet in Japanese (and some in English), who is a native of Australia living in Japan, Dhugal Lindsay, once wrote to me, that he had to give up his renku “hobby” — his word. Reason? It interfered with his pursuit of haiku. I get sometimes to think in haiku, as others have mentioned for themselves. Now at least, it is haiku I wish to know more, to improve my abilities in. Jack of all trades has no appeal for me — not a comment on anyone else. I can only have room for the haiku and related forms, and I cannot consistently excel at even those.

      I hope my own honesty in this doesn’t come across as arrogance — I have acknowledged that I am a Philistine vis-a-vis much poetry.

      Gary, I love Mozart. I like his operas, but I do not like his German operas, just for the sound of that language. Bigoted or just taste? Can I like Monet but not Kandinsky?

      At least my daughter survived my upbringing of her — knows many forms of poetry and reads for enjoyment … even haiku.

      Just myself, I’d rather watch a sunset with a decent cognac, maybe listening to Chopin or Caesar Franck, or Brahms if the sunset is rained out. In my luggage are a few books of haiku for such occasions this summer … one I remember packing is Across the Windharp, Bill and Penny collected Elizabeth Searle Lamb. – Paul

    100. Paul, I appreciate your post. I just came back from The Haiku Circle…I’d rather just experience the pines. It was gorgeous. But having had a long history in western poetry, it takes me awhile to move into just the experience… That’s what haiku gives to me that western poetry does not .. I have to lose poetry to find haiku since only haiku seems to be able to take me to that depth of perception. I don’t know if we can explain this to others who just can’t quite figure out what we’re saying…To me it’s a matter of being in different states.

    101. I just had a bit of trouble replying to Paul’s post but it seems to have corrected. It’s amazing to me that Dave can do any of this… just glad I can access when I can. Many thanks.

    102. Adelaide, I like your description of mongrel dogs as it relates to haiku. All the pseudo-haiku out there are at best haku mongrels, except that some of them (in my opinion) don’t even look like dogs, let alone purebreds! :-)

      I think I might have to use the term “mongrel haiku” more often.

      1. well, I’ve known a few real mongrels in my life, and none of them have been dogs.

        “Mongrel- An unlikeable person (one of the few insults that can’t really be used as a term of endearment)”

        …and that definition is putting it in a very mild form.

        This has not to do with haiku specifically, but shouldn’t we watch our metaphors to see where they actually lead?

        So-called ‘purebred’ dogs are the result of human intervention. Some turn out well, for different purposes, some are travesties of Dog and many bear no resemblance to the original dogs. What are those little, yappy, long-haired white things that look like the hoary ghost of an ugly Scotsman on a surly day for, apart from annoying the neighbours? Purebred Maltese Terriers, I believe. We now have Labradoodles and Cockapoos…purebred, mind you, and at least these last seem a bit more intelligent than Cocker Spaniels. Not to mention the American Pit Bull Terrier, nice dogs if they know you, but with some dangerous flaws which has made them illegal here.

        EL haiku is a mixed breed…sire – Japanese, dam – English. I’d rather think in terms of ‘hybrid vigour’ than ‘mongrel’.

        ‘Vampire haiku’ and other pseudo-haiku are as annoying to me as those yappy little crosses between a rat and a flokati rug which some people think are cute, but ultimately pseudo-haiku is as irrelevant to haiku as a Maltese Terrier is to a wild Dingo (an original dog) or to a good working breed, like the Border Collie or the Kelpie.

        1. I think I just heard a hoary Scots ancestor of mine call out his hounds.

          Better go put some Laphroig in the shrine…

      2. I appreciate very much the open-ness with which Adelaide and Paul have flushed out more their positions.

        I have also really enjoyed the general discussion here about Imagism and the Objectivists ( new to me ) and am learning a great deal. I’ve got a whole new stack of books from the library.

        I feel like Philip’s proposition–and the discussion that has ensued– is about a sincere investigation into the richness of various poetic practices, and not so much about the uninformed, and perhaps opportunistic, labelings of things like Ryan Mcum’s “haiku” (capitalizing on the current Vampire trends in pop culture).

        btw, I am a mongrel; it is one of the things I love about my American-ness. ( I’m glad you like mongrels, Mark )

        Since I’ve gotten back to the library, I will try to address this in another way; in the spirit of the broader field of contemporary poetry that Philip has embraced here, I offer this poem by Rae Armantrout from Next Life (2007):

        The Subject

        It’s as if we’ve just been turned human
        in order to learn
        that the beetle we’ve caught
        and are now devouring
        is our elder brother
        and that we
        are a young prince.


        I was just going to click
        on “Phoebe is changed
        into a mermaid
        tomorrow!” when suddenly
        it all changed
        into the image
        of a Citizen watch.

        If each moment is in love
        with its image
        in the mirror of
        adjacent moments

        (as if matter stuttered),

        then, of course, we’re restless!

        “What is a surface?”
        we ask,

        trying to change the subject.

        1. What is a surface?

          When does one idea stop and another begin?

          When does an old and frequently modified genre stop changing?

          Why do the uses of words matter?

          Why do we use a Latin-based alphabet instead of Arabic or Aramaic?

          Are we “we”?

          No and yes

      3. thinking about dogs and mongrels, here is an old one take of mine.

        If you call a tail a leg,
        how many legs has a dog?
        Five? No, four.
        Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg!

        Abraham Lincoln

        Before reading the parable of Lincoln, I had phrased my question in this way (and that was way before the birth of my kitten Haiku-Kun).

        If you take a cat (or dog to keep in the parable),
        cut off his head (kigo),
        cut off his four legs (5-7-5),
        cut off his tail (kire-ji) and
        present this creature to the world,
        what would it be called?

        Which takes us back to the definition of haiku …


        1. …mongrels, cruel experiments on cats in the name of ‘haiku science’. I think a bit of caution in our use of metaphor is advisable, or we will be too close for comfort to theories of a ‘pure race’ of haiku.

          1. Not to make too much of Lorin’s position (since history in the West does not confer on haiku much power), I would like to point out by a citation that in the 1940s just such an insistence on “haiku purity” had serious propaganda and life and death consequences to those who veered from the traditions of haiku (in Japan).

            Alle Rechte bei den Autoren

            This is the text:
            The Japanese Author Itô Yûki presents in his monograph, “New Rising Haiku: The Evolution of Modern Japanese Haiku and the Haiku Persecution Incident“1, published in November 2007, about a chapter in Japanese Haiku history mostly unknown in the Haiku world, outside of Japan (and within Japan these facts are no longer well recalled). In the forties of the last century haiku poets were persecuted, arrested, tortured and their journals annihilated by the ultranationalist Tennô regime; some poets died in prison or were sent to the frontlines of the war. All victims were advocates of free-verse haiku poetry, which had turned away from the “traditional“ stylism of haiku composition. After the war, it was Takahama Kyoshi (1874-1959), who was considered to be mainly in charge. Kyoshi was chief editor of the haiku journal Hototogisu, the journal with the greatest public success in Japan, and the inventor of the “traditional“ haiku (dentô haiku). He was one of the two main disciples of Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902). With his aesthetics of kachôfûei („singing about flowers and birds“) Kyoshi propagated a return to “tradition“, against the innovative reform efforts of other haiku poets and groups. At end of the thirties and beginning of the forties of the last century, Kyoshi came into influential governemental positions. He became president of the Haiku branch of the “The Japanese Literary Patriotic Organization“ (Nihon bungaku hôkoku kai), a culture-control/propaganda organisation of the Tennô system, under control of the Intelligence Bureau of Japan. The persecutions of haiku poets took place during Kyoshi’s presidency. After the war, unlike many other poets and writers, Kyoshi did not distance himself from his attitudes or apologize for his wartime activities. From 1946, a movement began, whose aim was to bring charges of haiku war crimes to Kyoshi and others. In Itô’s Addendum: “Historical Revisionism (Negationism) and the Image of Takahama Kyoshi,“ which is nearly the half of the monograph, Itô debates efforts to minimize or negate Kyoshi’s responsibility and role in the promotion of fascism and persecutions. The author, Itô Yûki, was born in 1983 in Kumamoto, composes and publishes haiku himself, and is a member of the Gendai Haiku Kyôkai (Modern Haiku Association). Currently he is a Ph.D. (cand.) at Kumamoto University, Graduate School of Cultural and Social Sciences, and is a co-member and co-translator of a cross-cultural research project lead by Prof. Richard Gilbert to present contemporary Japanese haiku (Gendai Haiku) in international contexts.

    103. Sorry, just a momentary diversion …

      With Sea Fever still bouncing around in my head, imagine my delight when in a book by Melvyn Bragg that I’m reading I came across an aside that “whale’s way” in Old English meant the sea:

      I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
      To the gull’s way and the whale’s way, where the wind’s like a whetted knife;

      Isn’t language lovely?

      A Japanese man I met at the weekend referred to his country’s economy as being no longer “shiny”.

      Back to the scheduled programme …

    104. Merrill, I hope you won’t mind my asking some questions about what you wrote (on June 7th): “I’d rather just experience the pines. … That’s what haiku gives to me that western poetry does not … I have to lose poetry to find haiku since only haiku seems to be able to take me to that depth of perception. I don’t know if we can explain this to others who just can’t quite figure out what we’re saying…”

      I find the distinction between “haiku” and “western poetry” rather confusing, since most haiku in English is western, and both “categories” contain such a range of poetics and practices, some closely, some distantly related… Or are you suggesting that good haiku in English is so different from other western poetry that it should (almost) hardly be classified as “poetry” at all (perhaps because, in Peter’s memorable phrase, it “surrenders to silence” so readily)? I realize that you’re speaking of your own, not necessarily others’, need “to lose poetry to find haiku”, but are you also making a claim for the status of haiku in general – that an isolationist stance is, in some sense, necessary?

      (My own view – perhaps to state, by now, the obvious – is that to clarify the relationship between E-L haiku and “western poetry” we need to be more specific, not ignoring other western poetries or sweeping them aside as just too different.)

      I also don’t understand why you should say, “I don’t know if we can explain this to others who just can’t quite figure out what we’re saying”; and couldn’t help thinking that your comment makes a “true” appreciation of haiku sound suspiciously like a religion! I imagine that most people who are reading or participating in this discussion, particularly those of us who write in ways strongly influenced by our reading of haiku (whether in the original or in translation), have had the exhilarating sense that haiku can “give” something that no other poetry can in the same way. Surely an appreciation of haiku read alongside or in conversation with other poetry – an interest, that is, in haiku as literature – doesn’t preclude appreciation of its particular power and appeal? Besides, doubtless there are those who would claim that the work of some other poet or genre of poetry has taken them to a “depth of perception” more profound than any other; I don’t see how one can reasonably generalize such a claim for haiku. But we can speak specifically of how particular varieties of poetry, including varieties of haiku, work – how they heighten language-/life-awareness.

      Thank you, Eve, for noting that I have not been arguing for the likes of the “vampire” writing-exercise that was quoted! But I suppose, to be politically correct, we should not be dismissive of vampirism as a subject for literary haiku. (Does anyone know any good vampire-ku? Perhaps some of Ban’ya’s flying popes could qualify?) Thanks also for sharing the Armantrout poem – which is quite funny, and fitting, with “the subject” – in all the senses – and the “moment” raising questions relevant to haiku. Particularly memorable phrase: “as if matter stuttered”.

      Incidentally, speaking of “mongrel” American-ness, has any modern or contemporary poet mentioned in this thread, with the exception of Lorin, been other-than-American? And – I’m a bit out of touch with BHS and HSA – has the bridge across the pond fallen into disrepair?

    105. Having argued at some length recently with a self-appointed western “authority” on haiku, I can sum my position on these issues in this way: I appreciate the freedom to discover what “haiku” may be or may not be, but I will not be TOLD what is “haiku”.


      I share my work. I do not seek approval for my work. My work is not about others. My work is about my own experiences and my own need to express them in whatever form seems appropriate for my own satisfaction and keeping. Enjoy if you wish. Do not enjoy if you do not wish. I go in peace. I ask you do the same.

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