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In-Depth Discussions => In-Depth Haiku: Free Discussion Area => Topic started by: Beth Vieira on April 04, 2012, 09:48:26 AM

Title: How haiku structures experience
Post by: Beth Vieira on April 04, 2012, 09:48:26 AM
This topic is large, but I did that intentionally so see what people might want to bring up.  One of the things I'm interested in is how there is an interaction between the writer and the reader that could be said to co-create the experience.  That haiku is a kind of open form which places lots of demands and trust in the reader to enter the poem and fill in the blanks, thereby creating the poem upon reading.  The writer has, in this kind of poetry, to resist being too explicit.  Not that there is a puzzle, but rather that there's an effect that is better conveyed by activity on the part of the reader instead of passivity.  I'd be interested in examples of poems that do this, but also I'm also interested in how people approach reading and writing haiku in their own experience.
Title: Re: How haiku structures experience
Post by: AlanSummers on April 05, 2012, 02:32:05 AM
This particular haiku has always intrigued me because of the strong reactions by the general public; mainstream poets; and a number of haiku writers.

lime quarter
an ice cube collapses
over jazz

Alan Summers

Publications credits:
Presence No.13  (2001); Bristol Evening Post article//Latimer’s Diary (2002);  (2003); Haiku Friends (Japan, 2003); BBC 1 - Regional arts feature  (November 2003); tinywords, (2004);  City: Bristol Today in Poems and Pictures, Paralaia (2004); Seven magazine feature: “Three lines of simple beauty” (2006); BroadcastLab, ArtsWork Bath Spa University (2006 - 2007); : Blogging Along Tobacco Road: Alan Summers - Three Questions (2010) Twitter Seven By Twenty (2010); See Haiku Here haiga (Japan, 2011); haijinx volume IV, issue 1 (2011); Derbyshire Library Service Poem a Month (June 2011); THFhaiku app for iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch (2011): THF Per Diem series Haiku of the Senses (March 2012)

I will never forget the time a family stopped by at a Christmas Market stall I was running, and I overheard their conversation over this haiku in particular.  They were just an ordinary family, and I don't think they were a particularly poetry reading group, yet they broke down the poem to its component parts.  Basically they not only loved the poem - and they had no idea I was the author, or that I was listening - but were pulling out layers of meaning, some I guessed, some I was surprised at.

There have been a number of poets, including a director of a poetry agency, who have requested this haiku from me at open mic and guest reader slots. And the owner of a noodle bar and successful live music venue who booked myself and my wife to run live poetry events influenced me in running The Lime Quarter for quite a while.

There is no intention whatsoever at manipulating the reader, but it successfully creates an active reader, rather than a passive one.  Further insights by writers and commentators alike as to why this haiku is so popular with the public and poets alike will be welcomed.

And also, what is it about certain poems that capture the imagination of large bodies of the public, and become loved, iconic, and a core part of their being on occasion?

There's a second of my haiku that I have been surprised at how it has become part of a person's being.  But that can be for another post.


This topic is large, but I did that intentionally so see what people might want to bring up.  One of the things I'm interested in is how there is an interaction between the writer and the reader that could be said to co-create the experience.  That haiku is a kind of open form which places lots of demands and trust in the reader to enter the poem and fill in the blanks, thereby creating the poem upon reading.  The writer has, in this kind of poetry, to resist being too explicit.  Not that there is a puzzle, but rather that there's an effect that is better conveyed by activity on the part of the reader instead of passivity.  I'd be interested in examples of poems that do this, but also I'm also interested in how people approach reading and writing haiku in their own experience.
Title: Re: How haiku structures experience
Post by: Jack Galmitz on April 05, 2012, 06:48:44 AM
I think your question, Beth, goes to the heart of any language event or game, not just poetry or haiku.  We are all influenced by verbal or written signs, and sometimes it is forced observation (for instance, just mentioning something, saying look at that or look at natural objects), but it is always a challenge because language is quite equivocal, quite indefinite, and words always refer to other words, to people's experiences of the referents of words, connotation, so on.
There is one haiku I wrote which has remained popular and it certainly invites participation on the reader's part:

Inside of me
bison are stampeding
across caves

I'm sure if we asked 10 people what this meant we would probably get 10 different answers. I can give you my "intended" meaning, as a starter.

I was thinking of the cave paintings whether of Altamira in Spain or the wounded bison of Lascaux cave in France (20,000 years old). I was simultaneously hearing Joseph Campbell discussing his experience of being in the caves, the darkness and enough light to see the mammal drawings and I could hear the stampeding of the great plains bison in the cave (the womb) of being, which is to say the cave of consciousness/unconsciousness.  I realized as I wrote that creation, its powerful roar and pounding is going on now, inside me, inside you, inside everyone, in mind and that the cave as the mother of creation is our own collective unconscious which is outside of time; in short, creation is happening just at this very moment.
So, through this haiku, I offer the reader an opportunity to see time/space/self in different coordinates than they are usually understood.  Really it is all quite synchronous.  The past is not over, the present is a passage.
Title: Re: How haiku structures experience
Post by: Beth Vieira on April 05, 2012, 11:13:19 AM
I enjoyed reading your responses and being offered two haiku to play with.  Though they are very different in scope because one has a minute focus and the other a broad one, they have things in common. 

The first is that something curious is happening; intrigue is set up.  Set up but not resolved.  That leaves it open ended so that the reader has lots of space to move around.

This openness is facilitated by two related features: the absence of a controlling subjectivity and the focus instead on actions of something that is not the poet.  The verbs in both cases do not belong to the subject who is writing; they belong to things in the poem.  This I take to be intentional in both cases.  It is not a question of manipulation really, but rather what selections are made in the process of constructing a poem.  Indirectly the poet's fascination is shared, but it is deflected away and toward the object of attention.  So even the lines that seem to draw attention to the poet--"inside of me"--are subordinated to the activity of the bison and become part of what is fascinating about that.

Both also use language in ways that peak intrigue.  In Alan's poem, the use of the verb "collapses" with ice is a kind of density of writing that I would call textual.  It asks for more attention that a normal statement.  In Jack's poem, both "inside of me" and the fact its caves not fields or something similar implicitly links the two, asking how the inside of someone is like a cave with visual images streaming across.  That kind of linking plus the clear pointing to the cave paintings makes for a density I would also call textual.

Both then support and even ask for more than a cursory look.  They sustain and reward more than one reading.  What I would argue is different is that they do it with such economy of language and such self-restraint that they are not like other forms of textual density in poetry.  The genre convention of having English language haiku in 3 short lines tells the reader that these poems are finished, complete in themselves, nothing more is coming.  But since so much more is implied, the reader is invited to jump right in.
Title: Re: How haiku structures experience
Post by: Jack Galmitz on April 05, 2012, 11:32:50 AM
Well, Beth, that is a rich and rewarding reading of the two poems.
I will be interested soon (in June sometime) when the next issue of Notes from the Gean is published to see your response to an essay I am currently writing on the book Rustic by Dimitar Anakiev.
The interesting fact is that he takes sashei poems, or at least some of them, those where the emphasis is on landscape absent human nature, as "capitalist haiku."  His argument is in these types of poems nature is an end in itself, recorded rather than interacted with, where nature is, as Marx understood it, to be human's inorganic body from which all value came in inter-relationship.
Of course, the two poems you interpreted would not belong to this category, as the involvement, the expression of the human is present.
But, I'll be interested in your opinion of my piece once it's finished.
AS a matter of fact, if you'd like to see what I've done so far, let me know, I'll email it to you.
Title: Re: How haiku structures experience
Post by: Beth Vieira on April 05, 2012, 04:36:52 PM
Jack, yes, I'll have a look at your essay before I comment, but it does sound interesting.

If I can pull out some of the features that I highlighted through a simple close reading, that might help continue the discussion.

One thing that I'm loosely calling "openness" perhaps needs to be theorized more and given a better name.  I see it as part of the genre of haiku, but I've been challenged on that so am open to other views.

What I see is something like a structural component in making the poem that deliberately makes space for the reader.  This is done by various techniques like not being too explicit, deflecting attention away from authorial presence, and what I have called textual density.

In other words, the writer in a sense deliberately holds back, trusting the reader to enter the poem.  There may not a singular meaning at all, but the structure of allowing the reader to inhabit the poem allows for deeper involvement because the reader in at least a hypothetical way is asked to become the author of the poem and produce its meanings.

This activity of reading, while available in potentially any form of writing, can be foregrounded in haiku due to its brevity and some of its conventions.  I'd like to call it "intersubjective" because it allows the overlap and perhaps sometimes the merging of subjectivities through the medium of the poem.  Intersubjective participation in a poem allows the reader to re-create or co-create the poem.  It differs from other acts of reading in the sense that the poem is not taken as a thing that is simply what it is and then consumed.  Rather the reader has to do something with and for the poem.  Whether the writer intended it or not, if a reader is able to inhabit the poem in this way, the writer has also participated at least retroactively in intersubjective experience. 

Of course there's an asymmetrical relationship, partly because it is in the medium of written language, so we don't literally have two subjectivities intermingling in shared actual space and time.  The writer has more of a role to play as the creator of the experience that is to be shared.  But in the act of re-creating the experience of the poem, that part of the equation is temporarily effaced.  In other terminology, the subject-object distinctions are loosened to the point of let go of. 

This loosening of the subject-object distinction was in fact an early principle in the haiku teachings of Basho.  He feared that if this did not occur, one would be left with only the subjectivity of the writer merely projected onto things which would have only an artificial effect.  I'll look for the passage of Basho that discusses this and post it.
Title: Re: How haiku structures experience
Post by: Jack Galmitz on April 05, 2012, 05:13:07 PM
I await your further remarks, Beth.
However, after reading your brilliant essay Pearls of Dew: Transitional Phenomena and Haiku on the period in childhood that Dr. Winnicott called the period of transitional objects, I understand what you mean by the "open" space between subject/object in distinction to imposition of subjectivity onto objects.
For me this comes naturally and is how I write haiku (perhaps because I never achieved an identity to lose-something a psychotherapist once said, to his amusement).
Anyway, there is always this space, call it ambiguity, aporia, indeterminacy, which is practiced by all poets and excellent prose writers. It comes from say Wittgenstein's theories of language games and the equivocalness of non-ostensive words.  Much of our language is about "things"that are substanceless, without boundaries or figuration.
And, at least from my perspective, and I think also from yours, if I understood your essay, this state is not something of the East, but a stage of being human.
The thing is that the body becomes territorialized in the first six months by the mother's particular attention to specific body parts and as the child sees itself as both subject or unity in the mirror stage it also simultaneously sees itself as an object amongst other objects and begins to formulate attributions to what is now the forming ego.
Does Winnicott believe that with the ongoing development of the child the initial stages of development co-exist with the later forms of maturation?
Title: Re: How haiku structures experience
Post by: Beth Vieira on April 05, 2012, 06:17:16 PM
The space of ambiguity, aporia, indeterminacy might be said to be inherent in any language game, but it is brought the foreground in what I call after post-structuralists "textuality" or in the above posts "textual density."  Derrida following Nietzsche called this the aphoristic energy of language.  But Wittgenstein who by no coincidence wrote aphoristically saw it more ordinary kinds of language games.  My favorite saying by him, that has something of a haiku energy to it, is that it does not bother us that we cannot describe the smell of coffee.

Lacan too wrote in a highly textually dense style so it is difficult to appropriate parts of his theorizing, which changed over time.  The same can be said about Winnicott though they make strange and interesting bed fellows.

As far as both psychologies go, the developmental stages do appear in each theorist's writing as temporal, but they are also meant to be taken as simultaneously existing in the adult.  Unlike Freud who has a more mechanical notion of stages that are either passed through or fixated upon, Lacan had a fluid and complex view.  One way he phrases it is that you are always a subject given to be seen.  In that sense you are always the object of the gaze.  Not necessarily literally the mother or any other subject but an internalized notion of what he describes as the mirror stage.  In some accounts, this other is the Big Other of the Real or even God, as in his account of female sexuality via a reading of the ecstatic statue of St. Teresa.

In Winnicott too, to get to your question, though it seems a developmental model and is to some extent.  After all Winnicott was a baby doctor as well as an analyst and theorist.  But he is clear that what he means by transitional phenonmena is not just what happens in early childhood object formation but is constitutive of what he elsewhere calls play, the highest form of human activity in his psychology and the roots of all creative endeavors.

Title: Re: How haiku structures experience
Post by: Jack Galmitz on April 06, 2012, 07:16:28 AM
Beth, my question to you is why "nature;" why not any "objects" that are indeterminately object/subject??
Isn't consciousness of two kinds: awareness of an "outside" and a consciousness of consciousness.  Why would modern haiku stress "nature" or avoid "subjectivity"?
Shirane in Traces of Dreams points out that most modern citizens live in cities, not in the rural places where haiku began, so there seems, to him as well as to me, much to be written about in city-scapes.
Are we too pretentious, believing that haiku is a higher art than senryu; or, are we forgetting that Richard Gilbert pointed out (In Poems of Consciousness, Kigo and Seasonal Reference ) and elsewhere, that the West does not have saijikis and so does not really have kigo; hence, by default, he drew the conclusion that all Western haiku was really gendai senryu.
Besides, is senryu really a separate form from haiku? After all, it may have historically become so in Japan, but Senryu himself wrote renku, linked verse, he just did it without reference in the opening hokku to a season or with a formal kire.
As Lenin wrote: What's To Be Done?
Title: Re: How haiku structures experience
Post by: Beth Vieira on April 06, 2012, 12:45:04 PM
There are several interrelated questions to which I don't have preformulated answers so I'm going to wing it.

First I don't necessarily see a distinction between nature and objects.  I'm not sure what "nature" is really, except some left over idea from the American Transcendentalists?  But after all, the hut at Walden was within a short walk to town and he accepted many visitors so he hardly was a hermit in Chinese mountains.

I don't see the need to have so-called nature in haiku at all.  Sometimes it's nice to have a seasonal reference if appropriate, but that's because of temporality and larger scope, not because it's natural.  Kigo after all were many steps removed from nature in any idealized sense because there were saijikis that are all about literary convention and allusion.  And some of these connections to modern readers seem quite arcane so saijikis are actually necessary or footnotes to explain what was taken to be a naturalized phenomenon.

What strikes me as strange is when a kigo like first line is then followed by something that is all about the subjectivity of the writer and then called haiku.  That just doesn't make sense to me.  It seems a fundamental misunderstanding of how haiku conventions have developed in modern English or Western haiku.

The question of subjectivity or consciousness in haiku is very bit and tangled.  I have learned from another discussion that there is a tendency toward more explicit displays of particularly the emotions because of a tanka-esque influence on recent haiku.  I haven't digested the implications of that.  It seems to me that making subjectivity into an object for the reader's consumption might be problematic.  But this refers to the above discussion about the difference between subjectivity as projected versus subject-object blending or blurring.

As to senryu, I do have a distinction that I carry around in my head, but that's baggage from being a reader of Japanese early modern haikai, not anything I apply very often.  If you look at Issa's corpus, I think there's an argument to be made that a large number of his haiku have more in common with senryu. 

Perhaps if there's a poem, kigo or not, that seems to have as its sole purpose a satirical aim, I would call it senryu, but it's just using a fancy and borrowed Japanese expression that isn't really binding or necessary.

There is a larger problem here that's just endemic to many aspects of Western language haiku.  It's a borrowed form from a highly developed and often insular culture.  So even the word "form" doesn't really apply.  In Japanese we don't even have what is translated as syllables.  They are onji, sound units, very brief, not replicable in English certainly where syllables have varying lengths and also have stress or not.  We have just adopted for the most part 3 lines, though lots of people are breaking even that convention.  There's no intrinsic relationship between 3 lines and 17 onji.  And though that may not be a big deal to note, the important word is "intrinsic."  Just like "naturalized" it implies that there are cultural, hence ideological components at work to appropriate, transform, and yet present as if normative and natural.  Lots of people take up art forms without exploring how these things came into being or what the implications are. 

What's to be done is to actually examine what appears to be normative and natural.  And then, in echo of your guy Lenin, to take a step farther and see what the ideological implications are.  Only then can you understand how your writing participates in a larger context.

The best example I have at the moment for this comes from contemporary poetry, not specifically haikai.  If you take the first person lyric poem and treat it as a kind of genre, there are many implications that writers of the genre tend to overlook.  For instance, it participates in and reinforces certain notions of individuality that seem naturalized but are really ideological products.  A whole set of beliefs emerge without too much scratching of the surface:  a centered subject, complete with self-willed identity and agency, valuable in its own right and similarly self-determining.  There are so many critiques of that kind of subjectivity that it is almost embarrassing to hear hear a first person lyric poem that naively presents itself as just what poets do.
Title: Re: How haiku structures experience
Post by: AlanSummers on April 06, 2012, 04:15:56 PM
I have to jump in briefly into this fascinating and utterly gripping discussion.

I agree with so much that I needn't touch on that.  Just one thing, onji was a method that ceased in the early 20th century.  Counting sound units by 'on' is still used, but is very different than onji

I'm told Japanese does have syllables, as such, and not all one short even duration, and this subject could really benefit from a definitive(ish) essay, or a summation of essays touching on it.

Title: Re: How haiku structures experience
Post by: Jack Galmitz on April 06, 2012, 06:59:09 PM
Just briefly, I've been spending much of my time reading Language School Poetry books on the idea of the "subject," as well as all the post-structuralist assaults on the subject per se.
I read an interesting essay on the subject of the Lyrical Subject post Language Poetry, which essentially left two alternatives: "flarf," which for me means the end of poetry, and the pseudo-innocent, sincere voice, the voice of the unaffected. Neither suited me.
There is of course something definitely dangerous in the demolition of the centered, determining self; to reduce the self to a praxis and pronoun of the competing codes and formulas of the social system (say Baudrillard, Barthes, et al) is not much of a self (even if it is at least truer, if completely lacking a substance ontology).
The self (I'm ad hocing here) was the creation of the industrial age, the creation of the commodification of a person as labor power, but now that self is the loci of signs and the stream of complex and often contradictory information systems of the internet and other social media.
Is it too late to say as Sartre said that man is free, must be free, because if he is determined then he is utterly exteriorized, which would mean he is not conscious, because exteriorization and consciousness are at odds.
What does anyone have to say to the dilemma. 
Title: Re: How haiku structures experience
Post by: Beth Vieira on April 06, 2012, 08:24:58 PM
Thanks, Alan, for the correction about onji.  It leads to adjustment I should make.  I overstated the differences for the sake of argument. It would have been better to say that Japanese syllables don't neatly correspond to those in English.  Japanese has two syllabaries, which consist of either just vowels or consonants followed by vowels with the exception of the nasal "n."  These units are very short and more regular than in English.  For instance, even the word "haiku" which would count as two syllables in English is actually three units in Japanese--"ha-i-ku"--even though over time dipthongs have emerged to combine the "a" and "i" sounds so in pronunciation it sounds more like two syllables in Japanese though the first syllable is somewhat longer.  In English we have much more variation.  We have established meters and stress patterns.  The word "ha" is shorter than the word "long," even though they would both count as single syllables in meter.  This leads to often funny renditions of foreign words in Japanese because they add a vowel after every consonant, and thus stretch out words sometimes beyond recognition.
Title: Re: How haiku structures experience
Post by: Beth Vieira on April 06, 2012, 08:46:06 PM
Jack, you raise not only the current condition of Western poetics but also the condition of man!  That's going to take a whole lot of thought and consideration before even making an attempt. 

I have friends who have go the way of flarf and agree with you that it really is a dead end.  So is an naive stance.

You seem to have some answers in your essay, which I need to read again before I give you comments, but just a few things about it.  You cite Rich, who among others talks about poetry as a social practice and that poets have forgotten that poets used to be public figures articulating common concerns, not sollipsistly existing and focussed on private experience.  The doctor you center on is doing something extraordinary with haiku.  Not only is the political there, but it's cultural memory. And because it's so pressing and artful, there's not really a gap between himself as a subject and his self as a subject of ideological influences.  His poetry is a cultural struggle as he says in one of his haiku as well as an account of it.  It's true that Satre called for freedom, but existentialism requires that a responsibility to be taken on along with that freedom.  There are different ways to place yourself, cultural, psychological, political, etc.  Things aren't determined as is the case of the self prepared to go to market.  Things are overdetermined.  And there are many approaches to that.
Title: Re: How haiku structures experience
Post by: Larry Bole on April 13, 2012, 08:51:56 AM
So much to respond to! I will have to respond in bits and pieces, as time allows.

Beth writes:

One of the things I'm interested in is how there is an interaction between the writer and the reader that could be said to co-create the experience.  That haiku is a kind of open form which places lots of demands and trust in the reader to enter the poem and fill in the blanks, thereby creating the poem upon reading.  The writer has, in this kind of poetry, to resist being too explicit.  Not that there is a puzzle, but rather that there's an effect that is better conveyed by activity on the part of the reader instead of passivity.

The first thing I would like to say is that I don't think a reader is ever TOTALLY passive when reading any poem. However, the type of active reader involvement in any given poem can range from very simple to very complex. I assume, Beth, that you are referring to the kind of haiku/poetry that requires more complex reader involvement.

I recommend, for an interesting discussion of this aspect of haiku, pages two through five from the introduction to Henderson's An Introduction to Haiku (pagination from my Anchor Book Edition: 1958).

I will try to be as brief as possible in providing some relevant passages from these pages:

Because the haiku is shorter than other forms of poetry it naturally has to depend for its effect on the power of suggestion, even more than they do. As haiku are studied further, it will be seen that they usually gain their effect not only by suggesting a mood, but also by giving a clear-cut picture [emphasis mine] which serves as a starting point for trains of thought and emotion. But, again owing to their shortness, haiku can seldom give the picture in detail. Only the outlines or important parts are drawn, and the rest the reader must fill in for himself. Haiku indeed have a very close resemblance to the "ink sketches" so dear to the hearts of the Japanese.

. . .

...haiku reading is in itself an art, and why in order really to understand a good haiku one has to read it over many times. It is not that the picture is hazy in any way, for if the author has done his work properly, the picture is quite clear. The point is that good haiku are full of overtones. The elusiveness that is one of of their chief charms comes, not from haziness, but from the fact that so much suggestion is put into so few words.

One point worth pondering is the difference between what Beth calls "being too explicit" vs. what Henderson calls "a clear-cut picture."

Here I would like to address one more comment of Beth's in a post on this thread:

What I see is something like a structural component in making the poem that deliberately makes space for the reader.

The concept of 'space' here makes me think of the Japanese concept ma. For an introduction to ma, I refer everone to the Wikipedia entry:

More to say as time allows, but right now I have to get ready to attend a seminar on the much-neglected  American poet William Bronk.

Larry Bole
Title: Re: How haiku structures experience
Post by: Larry Bole on April 13, 2012, 09:06:18 AM
Regarding the Ma (negative space) link I provided in my previous post. I c & p'd the url as I found it, but instead of taking me back to the Wikipedia entry, for some reason it takes me to an intermediate entry. When you get to that intermediate entry, you have to click on the "Did you mean: Ma (negative space) link within the entry. That will take you to the main "Ma" Wikipedia entry. Jeesh!

Or you can do a search on "Japanese ma". There are many sites about this on the internet.

Larry Bole
Title: Re: How haiku structures experience
Post by: AlanSummers on April 13, 2012, 09:45:12 AM
Ma is a fascinating area to explore, and along with white space/negative space, there is not enough written about these subjects that impact so much on society, and not just in literature and art.

Hasegawa Kai says this of Ma:

Ma is at work in various areas of life and culture in Japan. Without doubt, Japanese culture is a culture of ma. This is the case with haiku as well. The "cutting" (kire) of haiku is there to create ma, and that ma is more eloquent than words. That is because even though a superior haiku may appear to be simply describing a "thing," the working of ma conveys feeling (kokoro).

In contrast to this, Western culture does not recognize this thing called ma. In the literary arts, everything must be expressed by words. But Japanese literature, especially haiku, is different. As with the blank spaces in a painting or the silent parts of a musical composition, it is what is not put into words that is important.

The reader of a haiku is indispensable to the working of ma. This person must notice the ma and sense the kokoro of the poet. A haiku is not completed by the poet. The poet creates half of the haiku, while the remaining half must wait for the appearance of a superior reader.

Haiku do require close reading, but I've experienced many non-poetry readers getting haiku, and some haiku composers losing aspects of meaning and technique.

Why is that I wonder?

Title: Re: How haiku structures experience
Post by: Beth Vieira on April 13, 2012, 05:10:06 PM
I've read many things about "ma," some a bit too dense to summarize.  I first encountered "ma" through a film maker who filmed the famous rock garden in Kyoto.  He used Heidegger, whose later work was influenced by Asian thought.  Although Heidegger doesn't mention "ma," he does theorize the space/silence needed in poetry and the arts. 

In a book called Electric Language, Michael Heim picks up the Heideggerian argument.  It's based on Heidegger's assessment in part of the "technological world picture," in which everything becomes "ready-to-hand," that is, lacks being and instead is treated for its "use value."  So for instance, friendship comes to be replaced by networking. 

In language, we get "verbal noise," the endless chatter of information, for ready-to-handedness, calculation, and manipulation.  But language depends upon silence to make things appear.  He writes, "things can only stand out in full presence when the background is silences or open formlessness."  He questions whether Western culture has been able to learn "silent hesitation," a "pause" in which language does not become verbal noise, which he further characterizes as "an ocean of infinite symbols drowning the hints of taut meaning in the loose wash of noisy chaos where meaning is swallowed up."
Title: Re: How haiku structures experience
Post by: Larry Bole on April 13, 2012, 07:07:54 PM
Well, as the Wikipedia entry for ma points, out, the concept behind ma is not unknown in the Eurocentric tradition, but the Eurocentric tradition hasn't privileged the concept with a label as have the Japanese, in whose artistic culture the concept plays a much more prominent role, although not an exclusive role.

I find this comment by Hasegawa Kai interesting:

This is the case with haiku as well. The "cutting" (kire) of haiku is there to create ma, and that ma is more eloquent than words.

That is a new attribute of kire to me. I'll have to think about this. Haruo Shirane, in Traces of Dreams, says that kireji can both cut and join. He says that in "English haiku, or translations into English, where the visual line remains an indispensable unit of the English poetic tradition, the visual spacing, usually units of two or three lines, carries out the cutting function that the kireji often performs in Japanese."  I recognize that there are ELH haiku practitioners who don't totally agree with this, but I, for the most part, do agree with it. I also think that certain English punctuation can serve the same purpose, although as Lorin Ford (I believe it was) pointed out, kireji have a vocal presence in Japanese haiku that punctuation doesn't have in English (unless one follows Victor Borge's example of "phonetic punctuation"-- :D).

I would like to discuss a little more the idea of "being too explicit." What does "being too explicit" mean? One dogma of ELH is to "show, not tell." Perhaps what is meant by "being too explicit" is when a haiku violates this dogma, and "tells." I suspect this frowned-upon telling is when the poet tells their thoughts and emotions in a haiku.

The problem with this ELH dogma is that I am not aware of such a restriction in the tradition of Japanese haiku. This leads me to wonder which interpreter of haiku, writing in English, decided that this dogma was a 'rule' of haiku.

William Higginson is quoted online as writing the following:

“When we compose a haiku we are saying, ‘It is hard to tell you how I am feeling. Perhaps if I share with you the event that made me aware of these feelings, you will have similar feelings of your own’.”

“. . . We know that we cannot share our feelings with others unless we share the causes of those feelings with them. . . Stating the feelings alone builds walls; stating the causes of the feelings builds paths.”

You'll notice that Higginson doesn't say it's wrong to share feelings. He just says that in sharing feelings, one needs to show the cause of those feelings as well.

When I first encountered this notion in ELH that the poet wasn't to explictily state their feelings, it came as a surprise to me since, in my reading of Japanese haiku, Japanese haiku poets sometimes do state their feelings explicitly (at least in the English translation).

This prompted me to survey the 400 haiku in Ueda's Modern Japanese Haiku and the 400 haiku in Ueda's Far  Beyond the Field, and list the haiku that explictily state, or clearly imply, a feeling / emotion. I posted this list on one of Gabi Greve's yahoo haiku groups. It was not a miniscule list.

And I will end this brief diatribe against one of the misguided dogmas of ELH by giving this what-should-be well-known example of "telling" by Basho:

omoshiroote yagate kanashiki ubune kana

so exciting
and, after a while, so sad--
cormorant fishing

--Basho, trans. Ueda

Does this explicit stating of emotions turn the reader into a passive recipient? I don't think so.  When a haiku poet explicitly states an emotion, the poet is inviting the reader to share in that emotion, and the poet attempts to persuade the reader to share in that emotion by how well the emotion has been 'earned' by "a clear-cut picture" or an allusion.  The reader can actively choose to share in the emotion, or actively choose to reject the emotion. I imagine there are some Japanese who disagreed with the sentiment of this haiku when it was first written, and who disagree with it today. Of course, that is their privilege.

Does this haiku have overtones? According to one of the commentators that Ueda quotes, it does.

This hokku draws on two sentences that appear in the noo play Ukai. One is: "The sight of cormorants catching fish one after another in rapid succession is so exciting that the thoughts of sin, retribution, and afterlife all go out of my mind." The other is: "It is so sad to see the darkness after the torchlight on the boat goes out."  --Shoogatsudoo

Now the reason for the sadness expressed in the Noh play is a little different I think than the reason for Basho's sadness. That, to me, is the 'twist' in this haiku, the "transformation of classical associations," the "recontextualization" that are used as sub-topic descriptions by Shirane under the entry for haikai in the index for Traces of Dreams.


P.S. Sorry about the italicized section in the middle of the post. This is unintentional on my part, but I can't figure out how to un-italicize it, and I'm not going to retype the whole thing. The italicizing in that section does not signify anything out of the ordinary.

Alan's EDIT NOTE: Hi Larry, it was just after the word kire didn't have a closed italic code in:
That is a new attribute of kire to me.
Title: Re: How haiku structures experience
Post by: Larry Bole on April 15, 2012, 05:11:21 AM
Here is something Beth wrote on this thread that I want to comment on:

I'm not sure what "nature" is really, except some left over idea from the American Transcendentalists?

Leaving the topic of American Transcendentalism aside for the time being, I would like to quote some of the first several paragraphs from the entry "NATURE"  in the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics (enlarged paperback edition, 1974):

To deal with n. [nature] in poetry is, in some sense, to deal with nearly the whole task of poetry. For poetry is, to paraphrase John Dryden, the "image of nature." All theories of poetry have made some allowance for both terms ("image"---a thing in itself, a construct; "nature"---what the poem imitates or speaks about), however much a given theory may stress some peculiar aspect of the many interconnections. Hence, n., both as subject and as involved in poetic theory is central in poetry.

It is symptomatic of our times, semanticism being in some measure a product of the Cartesian division and romantic doubts about n., that "nature" is so often thought of by modern writers as primarily an ambiguous word. [emphasis added] But the situation is not quite so desperate as might appear... . For the galaxy of meanings [of "nature"] ... do have a center---reality, manifested in this way or that---and the crucial differences in meaning are more ontological than semantic.

Man has puzzled much about his relation to n. throughout the history of thought. People have felt that man is in, but not of, n.; or of, but not quite in, n.; or, in any case, that he is a very special part of n. (astronomically speaking, man is the astronomer). And from the earliest semireligious, semimaterialistic speculations about the n. of things, literature and men's views about n. have been mutually though not exclusively causative, and considerably complicated.

The entry goes on, for more than four small-type pages, to outline the relationship of nature to poetry in the Eurocentric tradition, starting with Homer, and concluding by pointing out the ongoing influence of Coleridge, and making references to Suzanne Langer, I. A. Richardson, Wallace Fowlie, Herbert Read, Elizabeth Drew, Cleanth  Brooks, W. C. Williams, and Ezra Pound.

I don't have much information regarding Japanese theorizing about nature and its relation to poetry. The contributors to this thread appear to have a good grasp of the difference between things found in nature and natural phenomena as topics that can be written about in haiku, vs. seasonal references in haiku, seasonal references serving the purpose of time-orientation, and sometimes emotional context (although of course there is much overlap between nature as 'thing' and 'phenomena', and 'seasonal reference').

I am hoping that Haruo Shirane's newest book, Japan and the Culture of the Four Seasons: Nature, Literature, and the Arts, will provide valuable insights into this topic.

Title: nature and humanity
Post by: Gabi Greve on April 15, 2012, 06:05:33 AM
I guess for Japanese haiku, the idea of nature is expressed in these categories

jikoo 時候 Season, climate, time 
tenmon 天文 Heaven, natural phenomena, astronomy, celestial
chiri 地理 Earth, geography, terrestrial
doobutsu 動物 Animals, Zoology
shokubutsu 植物 Plants, Biology

and two categories about human life  are

seikatsu 生活 Humanity, daily life, livelihood
gyooji 行事 Observances, seasonal events, occasions

Title: Re: How haiku structures experience
Post by: AlanSummers on April 15, 2012, 07:22:28 AM

I am hoping that Haruo Shirane's newest book, Japan and the Culture of the Four Seasons: Nature, Literature, and the Arts, will provide valuable insights into this topic.


I'd certainly be interested in anyone doing a review or article on this book.  Any takers?

Title: Re: How haiku structures experience
Post by: Beth Vieira on April 15, 2012, 02:51:13 PM
Perhaps a way into both topics, Larry, is to emphasize the literary qualities of haiku, which are foreclosed if haiku ends up being categorized as referential.  Since there have at times been tendencies to privilege the referential in haiku, whether it's to experience or to nature, it's sometimes important to resist the pull to do that.

It's interesting that the Basho poem uses literary allusion of a rather dense type to register reactions to the scene.  Even without knowing that, the relation between the two parts is far from explicit.  There's a textual density there that draws us in and asks us to fill in the gaps.  Even in poems that state the mood outright--like Basho's loneliness/cricket poem--it's the connection and the way the topic is picked up and inflected by the poet that makes all the difference since loneliness is part of the literary topoi of the genre so it can't be taken up as merely a private, subjective experience.

Nature too in haiku is literary in the form of kigo.  These are built up poetic and cultural associations that one learns as part of the genre.  But nature is such a difficult topic to cover because it is hotly contested, and lots of writing shows how ideological it is to separate out a category called "nature."

Shirane's book sounds interesting.  I like his approach in general.  He is very densely literary as a reader and scholar.  And in an essay I recently read, he makes that a real point, that haikai is an imaginative set of genres, something we may overlook if we are too referential about approaching it.  He cites a Buson poem:  piercingly cold/stepping on my dead wife's comb/in the bedroom to discuss the poet's feelings, only to point out that at the time of the poem his wife was alive and in fact outlived him by 31 years!
Title: Re: How haiku structures experience
Post by: Larry Bole on April 15, 2012, 03:36:07 PM
Gabi, what those categories express to me is the Japanese penchant for categorizing things, and specifically, the categorizing of poetry by key words or expressions.

By an idea of nature, I mean something more along the lines of Shinto's animism as a way of seeing nature and natural phenomena.

How does an idea of nature relate to Japanese poetry? On a simple level, I have read that at one time, the word hana, when used by itself without modification, meant plum blossoms. At some point, the meaning of the unmodified word hana shifted to mean cherry blossoms. Why did this shift occur?

I mean an idea of nature as it relates to Japanese poetry such as is explored by Kooji Kawamoto in his book The Poetics of Japanese Verse: Imagery, Structure, Meter, in the first chapter, "Autumn Dusk."

Here is an example of what I mean, quoting from the above-mentioned book:

Because the topic of "autumn evening" (aki no yuube), together with the seven-syllable phrase aki no yuugure (autumn dusk), is so familiar tro readers of Japanese literature, associated as it is with so many fine poems, it seems to hold a peculiarly Japanese resonance. There is thus a danger of mistakenly assuming that "autumn dusk" possesses a lengthy history. However, in actuality, this intially amorphous theme first began to attract interest relatively late in the long history of Japanese poetry. The phrase itself first appears in the Goshuuishuu anthology (1086). As a poetic topic in an imperially sponsored anthology, shuuseki (autumn evening) first appears well over a century later.

Kawamoto goes on to point out that:

With its carefully organized and systematic classification of seasonal poems, the Kokinshuu exerted a decisive influence on later attitudes towards the poetic treatment of natural phenomena.

And yet later:

According to Tsuda Sookichi, the emotions expressed in these poems are the product of pre-existing convention rather than an unmediated, individual response to the season.

Well, there is one difference between nature as it is treated in Eurocentric poetry and as it is treated in traditional Japanese poetry. Eurocentric poetry placed a higher premium on "unmediated, individual response" to nature than did traditional Japanese poetry.

Another example of the role of nature in Japanese poetry is discussed in Karatani Koojin's book, Origins of Modern Japanese Literature, in the first chapter, "The Discovery of Landscape." Koojin makes a case for the concept of 'landscape' in Japanese literature being a relatively modern one. At one point he writes:

[after discussing painting] Similarly, poets like Bashoo and Sanetomo were not looking at "landscapes." As Yanagita Kunio has said, there is not a single line of description in Bashoo's Oku no hosomichi (Narrow road to the deep north, 1694). Even what looks like description is not. If we can follow the subtle yet crucial distinction Yanagita has drawn here, we will be able to see both the process of the Japanese discovery of "landscape" and the literary "history" that paralleled that transformation of perception.

So, what I'm interested in, is how Japanese poets have perceived 'nature' through poetry, and how those perceptions of 'nature' may or may not have changed over time.


P.S. I would also like to point out that it is my understanding that using cormorants for fishing is still-practiced on several Japanese rivers as a tourist attraction, I suspect for domestic tourists as well as foreign, in spite of contemporary protests of the practice because of a modern concept that to use cormorants in this fashion is a form of animal cruelty. And I rankle at the idealized characterization of the Japanese as being somehow superior nature lovers. Buddhist tenants and nature-loving didn't stop cormorant-fishing from happening even when it appears that there was some notion of the animal cruelty involved as far back as Basho's era.
Title: Re: How haiku structures experience
Post by: Larry Bole on April 15, 2012, 07:02:07 PM
Well, Beth, let me do a survey of David Barnrhill's translation of 724 of Basho's haiku, to see how many seem to me to be examples of Basho being explicit regarding his thoughts and feelings (I am skipping some that seem to me to be too obtuse)  (I might do this over several days):

hana ni akanu nageki ya kochi no utabukuro (1662-1669)

among blossoms:
grieving that I can't even open
my poem bag

bashoo uete mazu nikumu ogi no futaba kana (1681)

having planted the bashoo,
now I despise them:
the reed sprouts

gu ni kuraku ibara o tsukamu hotaru kana (1681)

foolishly, in the dark,
he grabs a thorn:
hunting fireflies

(in the original, gu is "folly", but that still tells us what Basho thinks about it)

monohoshi ya fukuro no uchi no tsuki to hana (1684-94)

On a portrait of Hotei

so desirable--
inside his satchel
moon and blossoms

(miscellaneous--no definitive season word)

kirishigure fuji o minu hi zo omoshiroki (1684)

misty rain,
a day with Mt. Fuji unseen:
so enchanting

(in the original, omoshiroki is "interesting," but it still tells us what Basho was thinking about it)

wata yumi ya biwa ni nagusamu take no oku (1684)

cotton-beating bow--
as consoling as a lute
deep in the bamboo

ikameshiki  oto ya arare no hinokigasa (1684-85)

so harsh--
the sound of hail
on my cypress hat

yamaji kite naniyara yukashi sumiregusa (1685)

on a mountain path,
somehow so moving:
wild violets

(in the original, yukashi means "appealing / attractive")

furusu tada aware narubeki tonaeri kana (1686)

the old nest:
so lonely it will be
next door

(Spring; "old nest" refers to a place someone has lived a long time; in the original, aware is "pathos")

hana mina karete aware o kobosu kusa no tane (1686-87)

An old garden

flowers all withered,
spilling their sadness:
seeds for grass

(in the original, aware means "pathos")

That's 10 in the first 186. That's a little more than 5%. If I remember, it was around 5% of the 800 I mentioned checking earlier. So it is not common, but it is not unheard of.


Title: Re: How haiku structures experience
Post by: Beth Vieira on April 15, 2012, 09:36:25 PM
I appreciate a great set of examples, which I'll take some time with to comment on.  For now I just wanted to say two things.  First we were generally speaking of Western haiku, what the norms are, what the definition is, since it is a borrowed form.  I tend to view Japanese early modern haiku in a different light since things like post-modernism and other developments don't apply.  But I have studied Basho and Japanese so I'm interested.  That leads to the second thing which is that there's a dense literary factor going on that isn't like modern Western haiku in many cases.  Haiku poetics developed in a very distinctive culture.  Basho would have been so involved in that he wouldn't have made absolute boundaries between the personal and the poetic, between nature and culture.  Those binaries happened with modernism; it's anachronistic to attribute them to the 17th century.  So one example I gave was Basho's use of "loneliness" as a topos not a personal feeling.  Similarly "mono aware" is part of the genre; ascribing lots of personal attributes to it is not exactly correct. 

I think there has been some sort of misunderstanding about my position here, just because I used the terms "too explicit."  I was reflecting on how some contemporary poets tend to think of haiku as confessional poetry, which it could never be for one thing because it's just too short.  Also generically it is too dense a form to have unmediated, raw emotion or statement take up that much space.  If that happens you lose the literary nature of the form. 

You found that yourself when you commented on the difference between nature in Western versus Japanese poetics.  That there is an idea out there that seems to say that nature can be an unmediated experience.  I really doubt that early modern haiku artists thought of nature as so reified and divorced from cultural experience.  Or even tried to divide the world up that way.  It's a very specific ideology that separates "man" from "nature," one fairly recent and on its way out, though I'm overstating to make the point.
Title: Re: How haiku structures experience
Post by: Paul Miller on April 16, 2012, 12:33:09 PM
I think the dogma against “telling” is not actually so much against telling (since haiku tell us a lot), but against interpreting. For example, in one of your Basho examples:

foolishly, in the dark,
he grabs a thorn:
hunting fireflies

Basho doesn’t tell you what this means to him. Just that it happened. The literal is that in trying to grab a firefly he pricked his hand. Left unsaid is the parallel between the sharpness of a thorn and the sharpness of the insect’s light. There are other layers as well.

Even in this seemingly interpreted poem,

among blossoms:
grieving that I can't even open
my poem bag

I find other layers, specifically the parallel between the blossoms and a poem he might write. Literally he is saying he wishes he could get to his tools and write a poem. But I think he is also recognizing his inability in poetry to adequately convey the beauty of the blossoms.

This isn’t to say that Basho or other Japanese poets never wrote poems that told/interpreted everything, but I think poems that do all the work and leave the reader little or no room to engage on their own are less effective. Now whether this notion is a borrowed one or not I’ll leave to others. 
Title: Re: How haiku structures experience
Post by: whitedove on June 17, 2012, 01:16:03 PM
I've enjoyed reading the discussions and ideas spawned by this topic.  I'm not sure if my own experiences regarding this are what you were looking for when you introduced the topic, but I find that when it comes to reading haiku, I am very interactive.  One of the things I enjoy most about haiku is the intuitive sizzle and the intellectual leap that I experience when I enter a well-crafted haiku.  I appreciate those poets who allow me interpretive space while at the same time giving me enough information to enter the poem.  Some haiku I enter easily, but in other poems I find myself locked outside the poem.  There may be a variety of reasons for this.  Haiku poets today are writing from specific locales all over the globe, and they come from a dizzying array of cultures and educational backgrounds.  When Elizabeth Searle Lamb wrote a haiku about the scrub jay, it had no meaning from me since I had never seen one.  However, when I found a photo of the bird on the internet, I was able to enter the haiku and experience its brilliant plumage along with the poet.  I also found the nightingals's song by typing in nightingale audio.  One poet wrote about a flightless parrot from his home country of New Zealand.  The bird was booming its mating call even as it headed toward the brink of extinction. Only by learning of the bird's native name and habitat did I realize the significance of the poet's work in alerting the rest of us to an endangered species. When I enter a haiku actively, I may use a variety of tools to do so.  When I encounter unfamiliar plants, animals, cultural practices or art works, I use my computer to help transport me into the poems.  As I do so, my world grows larger and more complex just as it does in those haiku I can easily enter.  Still, I have to admit that were it not for newly acquired tools and culture (such as this discussion forum), my ability to interact with haiku would not be as rich or as vibrant.  This causes me to wonder if I am not part woman and part machine as I interact with haiku for I bring not only my own intellect and consciousness to the process of haiku, but also the intellctual wealth and consciousness of many others who contribute to my understanding and enjoyment.