“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)
[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)]
pig and i spring rain
hiding in everything plain sight
the river makes
of the moon
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
in and out
almost a fox
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.
- William James: “The prototype of all conceived times . . . the short duration of which we are immediately and incessantly sensible.” ↩