Skip to content

Creative Blooms 6: With Risk


Without risk there can be no honest passion; no way to meet with what is beyond oneself. With risk often comes wounds; a truism of love, if not of bungee-jumping. Below, a few quotes on the topic, drawn from contemporary literature:

We need people in our lives with whom we can be as open as possible. To have real conversations with people may seem like such a simple, obvious suggestion, but it involves courage and risk. (Care of the Soul, Thomas Moore, 1992)

Do you want me to tell you something really subversive? Love is everything it’s cracked up to be. That’s why people are so cynical about it. It really is worth fighting for, being brave for, risking everything for. And the trouble is, if you don’t risk anything, you risk even more. (Fear of Flying, Erica Jong, 1973)

There is no discovery without risk and what you risk reveals what you value. (Written on the Body, Jeanette Winterson, 1992)

There is no way around risk for those who seek poetic feeling. At the same time, ordinary life is inevitably linked to ordinary death as companion — we might strive to avoid risk, seek defensive shelter through repression of emotional feeling, etc. — though there is another way: sanctuary as temenos can function as a space within which one can risk. Sometimes out of conscious darkness the poet illumines this journey, or echoes it. (Poetry as Consciousness, R. Gilbert, 2018 p. 217)

bomb nor embody to take blue sky
ants begin to look like an idea
so greenly history puts forth thorns

[Mark Harris, Haiku 2014; Scott Metz, The Disjunctive Dragonfly, 2009; Eve Luckring, Haiku 2014]

What is taken of the sky before or after “bomb nor embody,” in Harris; images of freedom, destruction, and the erasure of life. In Metz, a traditional fragment/phrase haiku is subverted by a semantically radical blend: “ants” + “begin” + “to look like” + “an idea” — is the transformation sage or an inhabitation of evolving psychosis? In Lucking’s haiku, what does it mean for history, if imaged as an animate, growing lifeform, to “put[s] forth thorns”? A narrative story (green, blooming and prickly) is hinted at, which the reader embellishes, filling in the context.

And three more haiku to comment on:

dotting an i dotting an i death verse
                        generic sunlight
                                 the broken embryo’s
gunfire the length of the playground

[Lee Gurga, Haiku 2016; Roberta Beary, Haiku 2015; John McManus, Haiku 2015]  

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 19 Comments

  1. post

    gallops hyphenatedly

    in hycooland

    Under the post-modernist yoke, there’s no saying what a haiku is any more: the old narratives are to be taken as dead and it’s pretty clear that anything goes; history is a festering heap of dead poets. It’s not a matter of taste – it’s subservience to fashion.

    I might just be an ancient bumpkin too, Jack. But I rate your ‘…intellect and its intention should enter sparingly…’ very highly. This is where we must define what we mean by ‘consciousness’…

    1. Colin
      I would just like to clarify something.
      I am not advocating a return to a traditional haiku of a specific number of syllables or lines or the necessity of a seasonal word and the rest.
      I like modernist haiku and poetry and could not tolerate a repetition and imitation ad infinitum of a form and purpose used for 4 centuries.
      My objection is to poems that are written to not be understood at all, as if any ability to understand a poem were anathema to the modern spirit of uncertainty.
      When this trend gets overworked and stretched beyond imagination, the works left behind are meaningless. You can have abstract painting, plastic arts, music, as these have grammars and vocabularies, but not like language, which is used in the most common context of daily communication.
      Words always mean and to attempt to make a poem that is an object, the word as object, is to try to remove from language what is most essential about it.
      At least, this is how I see it.

      1. Jack
        I completely agree with what you say in your clarification! Thanks!
        As I was waking up this morning this floated into my mind:-
        ‘narrow ledge a drop of angel scream’
        a hycoo which might pass as an image in ‘modernist poetry’ as distinct from haiku. If I ever put it in a proper poem (unlikely) I’d be very aware that it was constructed by ‘intellect’, by a specific ‘clever'[ish] part of my ‘consciousness’ – waking conscious, left brain consciousness, with the intention of producing something that the reader might possibly be keen to work on – for me, none of that’s where true haiku come from.
        The fact that hycoo are offered up for publication suggests to me that their writers imagine that people will spend much time on painful exegesis & therefore don’t necessarily write ‘not to be understood’!

  2. As a reader and writer of poetry, I do like the challenge of finding meaning that might have been passed over in a first or second reading. My participation in the creative process makes the written words that much more intimate. Having said that, I do not enjoy poetry that is so arcane and hermetic that after going down through several layers of readings, I find that there is no there, there. I don’t mind the presence of the poet in the poem communicating with me on a personal level. I do mind a poem that has been twisted to the point that there is no way to reach either the poet or any intended meaning. I do think that some writers are convinced that the more impenetrable they are, the better poets they are. I call BS on that. The point of writing is to communicate. The point of reading is to delve into that communication with love and pleasure. It is a dialogue that should challenge and open the mind, not fence off that communication.

    1. Very well put Peggy.
      You express precisely what I mean and do so in a terser, more exact way and style.

  3. On the other hand, let’s face it: I might just be a bumpkin.
    If we look for say a scholarly source of today’s work we might find it in the Symbolists, who wrote arcane, hermetic and highly subjective verse where the sound of words might be as important as their meaning.
    Or we can look at the Hermeticists of Italy who used a closed style to remove themselves from the Fascist writing of the times, the mass propaganda disseminated by the state.

  4. I think it comes down to a matter of taste. Some poets are not content and are always pushing the limits of what haiku is and can be. I think this is essential for poetry or art, etc. There is a place for the traditional and the experimental and everything in between. Not everyone looks at life in the same way.

    1. I agree.
      However, there has been an idea fixed for a decade or more.
      That idea is that a haik/poem must NOT be transparent ( this theory comes from Language Poetry, which in turn derived from many post-modernist language theories). It must be impervious to interpretation.
      I’m afraid the result has been a Frankenstein of meaninglessness that is absurd and not absurdist art. At least this is how I view it.
      People will and should do as they want, but to believe that some of these examples of risk taking are actually pushing boundaries is I think to be mislead. It is the same stale wine, vinegar already, in new bottles.

      1. “It must be impervious to interpretation.” would be a great question to ask some of these poets. When I write, I care about how it translates to the reader. If it doesn’t translate, then I have no readers, which is fine if you are writing for your own enjoyment. I don’t get the sense that any of the mentioned poets are writing haiku that are impervious to interpretation but that’s just my opinion and I’d be curious to know if any feel that way. It’s a great point you bring up. Now if we could just get someone to interview haiku poets about how they work and what they are trying to accomplish, we could get some great insight. Maybe an editor out there can step up and include some interviews. Look how many interviews are out there in the literary world. Are haiku poets any less important? Certainly not. Maybe it’s time for a “Views” 2? Loved the first one.

        1. You might read my book Views. I interviewed a number of haiku poets.
          I admit at the time I did not question the direction modernist haiku had taken as I was one of the number.
          And my sense is you would not get anyone to admit to writing obscurely purposely.
          Nonetheless, there is a notion among people that poetry has to be obscure because it has a “hidden meaning,” that it is always impossible to have a meaning. Now of course I realize all things are interpreted differently by different people.
          However, poetry alone is “supposed” to be hidden, secret, something unknowable. I don’t think anyone would think this was odd.
          I do.

          1. Views came out in 2012. Is there another book interviewing haiku poets since then? Not that I know of, and that is pretty sad. If there is, lead me to it and I’ll read it. That reminds me to revisit “Views.”
            Weird to be weird is one way of writing but in the long run I don’t think it really holds up. But if I can use it to enhance my own writing then I will and that’s why I’m accepting of it, whether it’s written to be impervious to interpretation or not.

  5. Glad to have the support, Colin.
    I was beginning to feel it was unwise to say what I really feel and think.
    I was there at the beginning of transitioning conventional haiku (which had long out seen its day) to be in keeping with modern poetry.
    But I’m afraid things have gone so far in a direction of intentionally obscured language that I simply find it untenable.

      1. For me the word I would use is intentionality ( if this is a word).
        What I mean is that good poetry gives the impression of ease, of being naturally done, and I think this arises from all the elements in the poem seeming to be necessarily as they are presented.
        Some, if not most, of the example in this essay to me are perfect examples of personality interfering with art: you can feel the author forced the result. There is no feeling of everything being necessarily as is.
        For me, this kind of work is anything but risky and as far from honest and truthful as can be.
        It is not that poetry can be absolutely spontaneous and unfiltered- that rarely happens. But it should be as I practice it the starting point, even more than that. The intellect and its intention should enter sparingly as an editor.
        When you meet with personality and forced effects in poetry, you will always find anything but a true rendering.
        And when there is a new consensus that poetry must be as unintelligible and impossible to interpret, you often get forced mysteries.

  6. Where there is a breakdown of grammar and semantics in poetics, there is for me an ending to poetry and language. I do not call this risk or sabotage. In the endeavor to evermore uproot the conventions of language, I fear I find an immorality and a threat to our common selves and communication, which makes our humanity.
    There are some poems that I find examples of this destruction of language.
    Some I find intriguing, meaningful, and well rendered.
    I will not mention which is which.
    I will say this- if you jump from a precipice you will likely get broken. And being broken you will not be able to move or probably think anymore.
    I have found the direction of modern haiku or ku or however it is designated to be anathema to a tradition that goes back to the oral poems of all peoples. It is meaningless and annoyingly so in my opinion. It grieves me and makes me furious that it is given space.
    Of course, there was Language Poetry. But if anyone imagines that this was written in a language of a people’s movement towards equality, really they have not read their anarchists well.
    As Wittgenstein said, whatever beyond the bounds of language lies nonsense.

Comments are closed.

Back To Top