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Creative Blooms 10: Haiku Spirit


 One of the reasons (if not the primary) for creating community-oriented haiku sites and journals is to share the spirit of haiku. While there are schools of haiku, techniques, styles, and aesthetic conceptions of haiku, something like haiku spirit derives a cosmos of haiku — an intuitive space of haiku. This sense of spirit can be felt in the writings of artists working in numerous disciplines. Here is a quote from filmmaker/artist David Lynch that I feel speaks of haiku spirit:

People nowadays are suffering from all kinds of negativity, primarily stress, and a lot of people are suffering from traumatic stress. Negativity, stress, and anxieties, tension, anger, fear, all these things squeeze the tube through which ideas flow.

Negativity is the enemy to creativity. But what are we gonna do about it? People have to know that within every human being is a treasury. And this treasury is an unbounded ocean of pure consciousness. So within us all is unbounded intelligence, creativity, happiness . . . love, energy, power, and peace.

If we could contact that ocean, experience it, negativity naturally, effortlessly, lifts away. Turn the awareness from out, out, out, 180 degrees to within, within, within. And once we’re pointed within, we will naturally and easily dive through subtler levels of mind, then subtler levels of intellect, and at the border of intellect. we’ll transcend, we’ll experience that big ocean, the treasury.

(Shangri-la, 2019, Documentary film, Ep. 1; 42:32)

This topic is quite difficult to discuss, and I can’t accept Lynch’s comment literally. Though stepping back to a wider view, when has the haiku community discussed “negativity, stress, and anxieties, tension, anger, fear” as limiting creative, poetic expression in haiku? How may it be that linking these psychological states will “squeeze the tube through which ideas flow”; a direct challenge to or agon of creative life? Is “negativity is the enemy to creativity”? I’m not sure, but it seems worth discussing. Is there a “treasury . . . an unbounded ocean of pure consciousness”? If poetic license is taken here, as an overly romantic notion, nonetheless intuitively there is a mystery in how the richness of creative language in haiku arises out of the space of consciousness. So “treasury” seems apt and the “unbounded” to be invited.

What do you think about Lynch’s idea of contact, of turning awareness within? It’s not about right or wrong it’s about provocation — I find these ideas provocative. How might we instigate conversations on creative process and further validate such intimate, personal experiences?

Here are three recent haiku that seem to echo or evoke topical aspects presented by Lynch:

lotus into pond into lotus

from being a seed to being a seed

each one 
wheat in the wind  
of the other
[Agnes Eva Savich; Ashish Narain; Danny Blackwell.
All from Bones Haiku Journal 17, July 2019]

The reflexive image reveres the world by turning inside to out; what is outer, to within. Note the transformations — metamorphoses of body and being. Identities flow one into and through another. “each one” in “the other.” From “being” (a seed) to “being a seed” in circular return, metamorphoses commence through the thousand forms returning to identity, “lotus into . . .” “into lotus.” Through comings and goings we return — and return to the poem. Importantly, without rerun: identities return yet the paradox of psychological identity is that, as symbolized by the spiral, each return also marks a cycle of evolution. Eliade termed this the “myth of the eternal return” — putting an emphasis on myth then, is the myth really that we hold ourselves to be self-evident as unitary, named, unchanging forms? Yes, even names in song become myth: “Ride, Sally, ride”; “Do you, Mr. Jones?”

There are many clichéd expressions we might now insert, such as “The one is the many is the one.” Let’s avoid that heavy dose of new-age-easy quip. Good poetry is completely avoidant of the quip, or facile affirmation. To be barely (whether gently or brutally, rawly) simple within an evolving expression of life and being, in just a few choice words represents a mineral vein of high purity arriving in the light of consciousness, brought up from the underland, from a “dive through subtler levels of mind.”

Here, three more poems to comment on:

which spiral
   are we
     — Michelle Tennison (Heliosparrow, 10 Dec 2019)

measured in light years,
the night sky
again tomorrow
     — Dave Read (is/let, 25 April 2020)

     — Kat Lehmann (is/let, 24 April 2020)

Richard Gilbert, professor of English Literature at Kumamoto University in Japan, is the author of Poetry as Consciousness: Haiku Forests, Space of Mind, and an Ethics of Freedom (illustrated by Sabine Miller, Kebunsha Co. Ltd., 2018, ISBN 978-4-86330-189-4), The Disjunctive Dragonfly (Red Moon Press, 2008, rev. 2013), and Poems of Consciousness (Red Moon Press, 2008), among others. He is also director of the Kon Nichi Translation Group, whose most recent book is the tour de force Haiku as Life: A Tohta Kaneko Omnnibus (Red Moon Press, 2019). In January 2020, he announced the creation of Heliosparrow Poetry Journal, an evolution of the Haiku Sanctuary forum.

This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. when i am approached with the phrase, “haiku spirit”…i am thinking of the term as a shared consciousness of a group….possibly non-verbal in defination…..or the other extreme…of possessing specific qualities or attitude(s) , or states of being. and it’s like you are guided by them or not. it is like the zen place from which thoughts, ideas are automatically spewing,….in an holistic manner…..and generally has a “positive” outlook/outcome, etc. it is very complicated….because it is so simple, unbiased, pure thought….that many believe…”may”… be blocked by being in a state of strong feelings of negativity, stress, anxiety, tension, anger, and fear.
    this term can be misused/used politically to accept/reject the work/or attitude of others…and thereby here lies its danger….as i see it.
    like anything else…when it is used to restrict creativity/ or thinking out of the box….it can become an obstacle….especially if the goal is to compel a mindset with group, mob-like mentality thinking.

  2. I think everyone at one time or another has been shocked by something before them- whether it be the emerging color of a flower still sheathed or the light held in leaves. I think this shock of awareness, of suddenly seeing what was already there, is awakening. I do not think there is a haiku spirit. Haiku partakes of what is a commonplace, though rare, of human experience, human awareness. Personally, I think practitioners of haiku dramatize the difference and importance of what they do. I suppose this is natural and haiku does, sometimes, emphasize the shock of awareness. However, I find experimental haiku of late hasn’t the truth of sudden awakening: it is artifice and cleverness.

  3. Yes, there’s a haiku spirit. It comes from a state of mind. It’s useful to compare the extra-ordinary ‘haiku spirit’ with whatever it is forges an ordinary poem.

    “I have an idea for a poem [an ordinary one]. It has been zipping round the neuron system, and all its millions of interconnections, for at least a week: now that my days are inevitably limited, it’s something about the nature of a day – the way each one passes in what seems like a pretty mechanical sort of way, just like all the previous 30,000 days and yet there’s always a certain something that can make this 24 hours different from all those others…”

    That’s an idea-bubble; there is no tube, therefore no likelihood of any kind of squeezing down it – that’s a metaphor that doesn’t work. There is a certain something in me that will have to sort through the neuronal messaging and come up with a page of words that will more or less capture the complex of ideas that are floating ego-centrically on the top of what I call my mind; the net of words I throw over the whole idea will probably be provisional and whatever I write will no doubt serve to modify what I imagine I was originally ‘thinking’.

    In the highly unlikely event that I were to say, “I have an idea for a haiku; I shall chase it round my neurons for a week and attempt to tie it down in words…” I would know that I was in the wrong part of the neuron system for having a haiku write me. It would be like accepting the so-called ‘Creative Writing’ tutor’s inane request to write a haiku about a ‘wild animal’ for next week.

    True haiku just happen while you’re focussed allocentrically:-

    once round the summerhouse
    & out the open door

    The Lynch quotation raises a lot of questions. What is ‘creativity’? What is ‘intelligence’? What is ‘consciousness’? For a start, they are all abstractions; though we have been conditioned into shunting them around as though they had a common meaning for everybody, abstractions are meaningless until one translates them into personal practice. My own notion of creativity is deliberately ‘sorting through the neurons’ till Arthur Koestler’s concept of ‘bisociation’ comes into play – let at least a couple of the images clustered somehow in the messages signaled by the neurons rub themselves together to create some spark of difference that’s worth capturing on a page. One would have to work with a certain degree of intelligence to be able to do that in any significant way. But – ‘consciousness’ – that’s a whole big can of worms.

    There may well be ‘pure consciousness’ but it is certainly not a ‘treasury’ nor is it, to mix the metaphors as Lynch does, ‘an unbounded ocean’. In ‘pure consciousness’ there is nothing, a complete absence of negativity, stress, and anxieties, tension, anger, fear. Turning inwards will not help us to discover anything but the concerns of the ego and its confusions – that’s exactly where we find negativity, stress and all the rest of it.

    What do we mean by consciousness? As a word it’s a straightforward abstraction and, as with all abstractions, the assumption is that there’s only one meaning – that we all mean the same thing when we use the word: it could be that by consciousness you mean simply ‘being aware’ – I’m aware of my fingers dancing on the keys of the word processor & words appearing on the screen in a way that would once have appeared to be like magic. That’s low level ‘consciousness’. I re-read the words on the screen and I go into a different kind of consciousness: one typically managed by the left side of the brain, analytical, logical, noticing one thing following another; but the right hand side of my brain is also engaged – am I making sense, are the words connected properly, is there a clear pattern of argument? That’s at least three ways of defining consciousness, leaving out possible (& likely) combinations.

    Gurdjieff makes a distinction between what we normally think of as ‘consciousness’ – simply being in a kind of waking trance – and ‘self-remembering’ which is a process which can get one into one of those strange, perhaps rare, states when everything seems more than real and, paradoxically, self becomes a nothingness. Self-remembering is responding to the mantra, ‘This me here now being me here now…’ The focus of attention shifts with much practice to what’s out there so that the internal voice ceases its endless rigmarole that often promotes negativity etc.

    At the age of 95, Dr James Austin, retired American neurologist, combines a study of neuroscience and Zen practice and has worked with the idea that the Zen thought-free mode of awareness, satori, is not just some airy-fairy idea but is the result of abandoning an ego-centric perspective, dorsal, top down, brain function, in favour of an allocentric perspective, ventral, in the background function, focussed on ‘things out there’. Instead of relating objects in the world to oneself, Zen practice leads to the abstract perception of things in relation to one another, juxtaposition, as it might be. The resulting ‘suchness’ is me-less and all the personality stuff (the negativity, stress & so forth) has no place to operate. All the fancy metaphors, tubes, oceans, treasuries and so on cease to have meaning – ‘pure consciousness’ is positive emptiness.

    I’d say that the last three ‘haiku’ we are asked to comment on come from minds operating in top-down, left brain mode – asking a question, a thought and a bit of wordplay – clever wordplay, same as the earlier three – ordinary conscious processes.

    1. Thank you, Colin. You have given much food for thought. I find this a much more thoughtful and stimulating discussion of the ‘haiku spirit’ than anything I’ve read so far. I shall read your comments again and again, and perhaps find a way to improve my writing. Thanks again for your comments.

  4. I’ve found that my most creative periods have been during the most intensely stressful periods of my life. Sometimes that stress was negative and sometimes positive, but always productive. Those stressful moments (weeks, months, years) have led me both out, out, out and within, within, within. The labyrinthine paths of my mind are still exciting to explore, but the older I get, the more I am drawn to the enormity of the cosmos and our small place in that expanse, both intellectually and physically. Complacency seems more the enemy of creativity from my perspective. When I am happily sitting at home with nothing to challenge me to rise up, my creative side just sits there with me as we both think, isn’t this nice now. Perhaps only by exploring our interior maze can we finally work our way out to the great open maze of our universe. Just my thoughts on the creative process. I would love to hear how others see or find their creativity. And BTW, I love all of the poems offered for our consideration today, even the unusual single word poem.

  5. Lynch was talking about TM, Transcendental Meditation. If you haven’t tried it, there’s no point in talking about it really. You might as well talk about swimming or dancing to someone who has never experienced either.

    1. Such a narrow frame of mind to insist that these ideas apply only to TM. Perhaps you should sit longer.

      1. Thank you for the reference to a ‘narrow frame of mind’. I merely referred to Lynch as one of the major apostles of TM. I never implied that ‘these ideas only applied to TM’. Perhaps we should all sit a little longer before jumping in.

  6. Negativity, stress, anxieties, tension, anger, and fear squeeze the toothpaste tube which ideas come out of.

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