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Creative Blooms 5: Poetry, Sacredness, Sanctity


“Temporal compression into ‘the specious present’1 produces concentrated effects on consciousness that linger, as the very brief poem requires the reader to complete in imagination partial psychic landscapes and hypothetical possible worlds in the partial stories given. In this way haiku encourage interior, soulful exploration.

“When imagination as a value becomes fraught, lacks a precinct, a temenos within which to dwell, when the spaces (and places) of sanctity wherein psychological risks can be taken are fragmented and diminished, democratic liberty is in doubt. From this perspective, poetry provides and promotes an ethics of freedom.” (Poetry as Consciousness, R. Gilbert, 2018 pp. 238-39)

pig and i spring rain


hiding in everything plain sight

the river
the river makes
of the moon

[Marlene Mountain, 1979, in Haiku in English (W.W. Norton, 2013); Don Wentworth, 2014, in Haiku 2014 (Modern Haiku Press, 2015); Jim Kacian, 1997, in Haiku in English (W.W. Norton, 2013)]

Particles of instantiation within a specious present, the syntax of subject blends into dyadic rhythmic‑pairs, creating figuration. The “altogetherness” of the collocational presentation of these pairs exists as a moment: a location or locale, in thoughtspace: pig and I, hiding/plain sight, river/(river of) the moon. Notice how time works here — where are you in presence, within the specious present, when involved in these brief haiku? Does duration remain literal, or do you enter an imaginal, poetic space — a temenos that involves sanctity, a sense of sacred ground? Revelation can be a quiet event, less than a whisper: the locale of rain in Mountain, the space of the seen in Wentworth, the layers of river in Kacian.

Here are three more haiku (from wind flowers: The Red Moon Anthology of English-Language Haiku 2019 (Red Moon Press, 2020)) that seem to easily expand the specious present into realms of sanctity:

spring café buying a moment to dream

Jenny Fraser


in and out
of moonlight
almost a fox

Earl Keener



Christopher Patchel


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.

  1. William James: “The prototype of all conceived times . . . the short duration of which we are immediately and incessantly sensible.”

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. In other words, you either “get it” or “you don’t.”

    Or, stated a different way, try reading Ikkyu, I prefer Wild Ways. I read it in the laundromat because I am away from other distractions. When you read Ikkyu, you get into mental state of ‘I could be here, or I could be there, it could be now or it could be then.’ And it doesn’t really matter.

    So, as to anchor oneself, you notice what’s right there in front of you, an imam folding his gowns while you fold your pajamas, a small boy teasing you from the other side of the glass window you are leaning against, a sweet elderly lady asking you to knit her a hat, anything that anchors you to the present. And there you are,too!

  2. My first (and still young) attraction to haiku is what I’d call its pull toward, and into, the sacred. Why that occurs has mostly eluded me. I’ve simply accepted, gratefully, that it does.
    What’s expressed here begins to illumine for me how it does. By its very nature, as this essay points out, the brevity of haiku “requires me to complete in imagination…possible worlds in the partial stories given.” For that, I need to bypass my ego’s desire for literal, limited certainties in order to draw upon my soul’s vast intuitions. I need to remain open to subtle, even ordinary, epiphanies. For “revelation” as James Kacian so beautifully states here, “can be a quiet event, less than a whisper.”
    In haiku, “the pig and i” can share a temenos with everything else “hiding in…plain sight.” In haiku, time and timelessness can dance. The seemingly mundane can arrest me with a sense of sanctity. The unsayable can remain unsaid.
    How grateful I am for the evocative and affirming insights in this essay. A thousand thanks.

  3. ‘Particles of instantiation’. I love this term! It perfectly describes haiku, what I aim for and so seldom reach. I think that, in and out/of moonlight/almost a fox is a perfect representation of instantiation. Also Jim Kacian’s poem, the river/the river makes/of the moon is wonderful. The last line snaps the reader into the image. Thanks for the definition and the poems.

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