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Messages - Mark Harris

Field Notes / Re: Field Notes 7: Challenge
July 25, 2014, 04:52:15 PM

I heard Vincent Tripi say something close to this a few months ago, "Every poet carries with them a poem they can never write." His words stayed with me, and for me they are true. How often have I tried to write down something every part of me yearns to express, and failed? Other poems will emerge. They approach what I want to say.

Sometimes the poem I cannot write wants to be a haiku.

English-language haiku has an affinity for naming and describing. While some of the poems generated from that way of thinking interest me, I'm looking for a different sort of experience. My favorite poems are about what can't be named.

Here's one by Raymond Roseliep, from his book Listen to Light: Haiku (Alembic Press, 1980). Since my first encounter with this poem, it's been a key for me. A key to what, I'm not sure—disembodiments leading to an embodiment, illumination.

nor lover's breath
disturb my candle

So soft-sounding, so quiet and gentle, the wistful reverie of a man of the cloth. Almost everything he gives in this poem, he takes away. The moth has its own line, is briefly there, a pale and flickering specter with beating wings, and then dispelled by the word neither, itself omitted.

With modest and knowing humor, Roseliep dismisses the presence of his imaginary lover in line 2. His irregular use of the word nor, combined with the line break after moth, makes for a "cut" in space and sound, a placeless place "pregnant with Nothing" as Meister Eckhart put it.

The final line mentions a candle, and yet isn't a flame the focus of this poem? Why doesn't Roseliep name it, I wonder? Because, I think, his flame can't be seen or known. Felt, perhaps, if only through a leap of faith.

What can be taken away, and what remains? What is it I am trying to say? I don't know. I suppose that's my challenge, Peter.
Field Notes / Re: Field Notes 5: Criticism
March 07, 2014, 04:19:50 PM
I'm continuing some ideas offered by Richard and Phil on frames of reference, and Eve's more recent comment posted on 3/4/14:

Eve's analogy with visual arts curation provides a lens through which we can examine the topic of authorship and readership. Yes, the way curators, and the institutions behind them, frame the scholarship that accompanies an exhibition speaks volumes. And the way pictures are arranged on the wall, the juxtapositions chosen--as a museum preparator, that process is familiar to me. We seldom have much time to install exhibitions. Years of planning end in a motley crew hanging and lamping the production within a few days. Despite the power relationships, which are of course real and sometimes grudgingly accepted, something wonderful happens then. When it comes to the layout of the art, the best laid plans are usually discarded, at least in part. We'll look at a wall, say "this isn't working" and then change it, as a group, each of us playing a greater or lesser part.

Who is the author? Where does the power reside? Not so clear.

All that brings my mother to mind. When my sister and I were young, she used to read aloud to us. From picture books at first, and later novels, trilogies and longer series. She's a born performer and had a way of inhabiting the characters and also the authorial voice. She made those books come alive! I remember listening with bated breath, experiencing whole literary worlds through her adult, slightly alien perception. Disbelief was not entirely suspended; I would read along over her shoulder, and my own interpretation paralleled hers.

When I read work by critics and editors with a talent for sharing their love of poem and text, I feel I'm being read to (and read along). Criticism as creative act: I can only imagine that's not easy to accomplish without taking too many liberties, and yet the results of picking "a theme to curate around," as Eve puts it, can be stimulating and fun. If we're looking for a model of a critical work curated around a theme, my first thought is of Hiro Sato's One Hundred Frogs: From Renga to Haiku to English (Weatherhill, 1983).

Field Notes / Re: Field Notes 5: Criticism
February 13, 2014, 09:50:48 PM
I work at an art museum, where along with the other preparators I handle art, install exhibitions, set up for classes, frame pictures, that sort of thing. Occasionally, I'll tackle an unusually complex installation or help plan the look of an exhibit from its early stages. Years ago, I went to art school to study painting. Art handling was a way to pay the bills at first; all these years later, here I am still doing it. It's good work. To hold a Rubens, a Maya chocolate drinking cup, or an Albers in my hands can be a thrill. And to share them with the public, that's also a thrill. On my breaks, I try to take time to peruse the galleries.

My coworkers and I witness a gamut of reactions to the exhibitions. Nudity can be offensive to some visitors. Others are shocked by, say, a painting of a lemon-yellow square against a larger violet-gray square framed by a square of a darker and more subdued yellow, a work by Joseph Albers who I mentioned earlier. It's one of my favorite paintings in the collection, one of a series called Homage to the Square. Although to some it might initially seem intellectual and methodical, not so. Albers was passionate about color. It's often been noted that color evokes emotion and, really, this painting is all heart. My description doesn't do justice to the original because the painting explores subtle relationships of color and proportion--and our sensual reactions to them--which can't be conveyed through words spoken or written. The painting is dated 1961, at what could be considered the height of the modern art era. Painting is dead, people have been saying ever since, and yet it never quite does die.

Albers taught at the Bauhaus art academy. When the school closed in response to the Nazi rise to power, Albers and his wife Anni emigrated to the U.S. where he was offered a job at Black Mountain College, a name familiar to those who associate the school with poets such as Robert Creeley, whose use of everyday speech and minimalism can inform writers of haiku as much as the work of his mentor William Carlos Williams. Creeley had his detractors, that's for sure; the critic John Simon, commenting on his poems, wrote, "They are short; they are not short enough."

As editor of Black Mountain Review, Creeley published the writings of Lorine Niedecker, Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen, Jack Kerouac and others who were influenced by haiku and in turn influenced haiku in English. The review's cover art is beautiful, spare and strikingly modern. The first four covers were done by Katue Kitasono, issue #5 is by John Altoon, and #6 by Dan Rice. #7 by Ed Corbett consists of a solid black rectangle, not quite square, and a few delicate linear marks.

I'm rambling now, I know, it's just that my train of thought is taking me back to haiku and that wonderful way it has of being spare, specific, sensual, seemingly simplistic and yet able to inspire shifts to new ways of seeing  . . .
Field Notes / Re: Field Notes 5: Criticism
February 11, 2014, 12:57:51 PM
regarding haiku: Does success equal publication, and does excellence equal success? As Peter implies, I think, in his introduction to this installment of Field Notes, not necessarily. Are we being shaped by our desire to publish? If so, what does that mean these days? In this era of the internet, of webs woven upon webs, can any of us doubt that information itself has value, and corporate giants are battling to control its trade? Try as we might, can we remain free of those forces? And yes, in sharing this I'm guilty of participation in that trade. Certainly, I'm no critic, it's just that as I read the comments on this thread to date, the word commodity comes to mind, and the following:

"An analysis of art in the age of mechanical reproduction must do justice to these relationships, for they lead us to an all-important insight: for the first time in world history, mechanical reproduction emancipates the work of art from its parasitical dependence on ritual. To an ever greater degree the work of art reproduced becomes the work of art designed for reproducibility. From a photographic negative, for example, one can make any number of prints; to ask for the "authentic" print makes no sense. But the instant the criterion of authenticity ceases to be applicable to artistic production, the total function of art is reversed. Instead of being based on ritual, it begins to be based on another practice – politics." –Walter Benjamin, from The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (1936)


"Many have spoken of the fact that English-language haiku remains imitative, in diction, in subject matter, and form, of the Japanese. Gilbert writes: "A main element for constraint acting on haiku composition has emanated from Shiki's ... compositional guidelines. [His] realist dicta for the beginner-poet regarding the composition of shasei ('sketch of life') haiku predominate." This is no doubt true, but while Japanese haiku remains a powerful influence, sitting on the collective shoulder of the English-language community and whispering in its ear, a louder voice seems to come from within: in the light of what Kacian has written, it may be fair to say that much of what we are producing is imitative of itself, resulting in what William J. Higginson calls "the increasingly fixed and limited notion of haiku that currently pervades much of the English-language haiku community." It seems to have developed a momentum and mass sufficient to exert a kind of gravitational force. Essentially it means that what many value most about the "best" haiku, a quality of being mysteriously and unmistakably alive, is being pressured to fit into pre-determined and familiar forms, into the idea of what a haiku is. What results is something less like "sketches from life" and more like "sketches from haiku.""—Peter Yovu, from his review in Modern Haiku of Big Sky: The Red Moon Anthology 2006


"A Poem is first of all an amulet, an OBJECT bearing energy (c.f. the objectivist poem as object and Olson's poem as "at every point a high-energy discharge"). The poem is first of all a charm, relic, medicine, compass, key. See, too, the ORACLE BONES of Shang dynasty China, scapulamancy as practiced even today by arctic peoples, and Marija Gimbutas' The Living Goddesses. We are not talking about the poem sitting on a page like a jewel in a ring but the two inseparable, Eshleman's THE ONE ART given its place. In this context, to "reproduce" (i.e. publish) a poem widely is to pass on as little of it as the "reproduction" of a painting or sculpture. We would speak instead of instances of a poem – think of the poet as writing down the poem again and again. The signed book carries a weak, memorial suggestion of this; those priceless books handmade by the poet in editions of twenty-six (Bob Arnold, Cid Corman, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Jeremy Seligson, Emily Dickinson) come closer, almost close enough. The next step would be to take up Vietnamese tu phap or find an American equivalent to Japanese sosho. We must learn how to write again, from the beginning. Inscribed by hand preferably on stone, wood, paper, that which bears an organic relation to the world wherein its power resides, a poem is an act of sympathetic magic. Here we see Levertov's organicism brought to the medium itself. Crude, yes brut,an arte povera, WITHOUT ILLUSION of being "above" anything (much less "it all"). The poem as medicine. And life today is nothing if not in need of healing."—John Martone, reproduced/taken from The NEOLITHIC (re)turn in poetry, an article on his website


"my material is available in limited portions for noncommercial projects in the manner/spirit in which it was created. please ask for permission--out of respect for all artists who share our work. comments welcomed but replies are doubtful. in time relevant opinions will be posted if permission is granted."—Marlene Mountain, from a request in her website's Introduction.
Thanks to Lorin for pointing out a glitch in the Touchstone poem awards online form. Apparently the CAPTCHA codes were not allowing submissions through. Dave Russo was able to correct the problem. Thanks Dave!

If any of you were unable to send in your haiku last week, please try again.

Thank you,
Hi all, please take a close look at the English-language haiku published during 2013, and send us two of your favorites. Send one of your own, and another by someone else--this could be a great way to honor a fellow poet. You can participate using our online form, here:

Please submit your nominations by year's end.

Current and past award-recipients are showcased in the Touchstone Archive.

You can find more information here:

Thanks, and best wishes

Mark Harris
Chair, THF Awards Committee
the video Eve Luckring and Jim Kacian put together for the Video Archive campaign is really compelling, I think, and a preview of what the Video Archive interviews will be like.

Just for fun, we've posed a question in an update to the campaign. It's part of a game called Name This Poet. So far, no one's come up with the answer. If you want to play...
Contests and Awards / Re: The Touchstone Awards
September 18, 2011, 11:20:31 PM
If you visit the Touchstone Awards pages, you will find the panel profiles have been updated, with one exception: Janice Bostok, the grande dame of Australian haiku, whose influence was international, is still represented on the page devoted to the Touchstone Awards for Individual Poems. We have not yet found a panelist to take her place. Elsewhere on this forum, I expressed The Haiku Foundation's (and my own) gratitude to her, and will do so again here. Thank you, Jan, we will remember you, and your work will live on.
Contests and Awards / The Touchstone Awards
September 18, 2011, 07:44:07 PM
The Haiku Foundation is now accepting nominations for the Touchstone Distinguished Book Awards and for the Touchstone Awards for Individual Poems. Please follow the links below for information on how to submit nominations.

You can see the results from the 2010 Awards here:

Other Haiku News / Re: Passing of Jan Bostok
September 05, 2011, 07:59:43 PM
She served on the panel for the inaugural Touchstone Awards for Individual Poems, one of her many contributions to the haiku genre. As Chair of the THF Awards Committee, I had the good fortune to work with her, and she never allowed her failing health to dampen her intelligence and grace. I'm sure that will come as no surprise to those who knew her better than I did.

With respect and gratitude,

from the Borges story, The Library of Babel, which begins, "The Universe (which others call the Library) is composed of an indefinite, perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries...."

"In the vestibule there is a mirror, which faithfully duplicates appearances. Men often infer from this mirror that the Library is not infinite--if it were, what need would there be for that illusory replication? I prefer to dream that burnished surfaces are a figuration and promise of the infinite..."
Ah. Jack

thanks, hadn't read that one. And posted on the web--his sense of humor. I like:

"The poem as medicine. And life today is nothing if not in need of healing."


"Finally even the best discussions of poetic language offer only an academic quantification of primal efficacy. We need a rebirth of awe."

whatever and whoever else transforms, first and last a poem is (sometimes becomes? when?) "an OBJECT bearing energy."

lapidary or chattery? fashionable we're not (I think) and while our thoughts here might not become objects, they carry energy

Yutei's flock of cranes
are life-size and move so much
I become a crane

- Jack Galmitz

the silence grows
teeth- a tree
with cracked windows

- Scott Metz

The falling leaves--
rushing underground I notice
scales on my skin

- Mikajo Yagi

word of his death
bees streaming out of a hole
in the dictionary

- Peter Yovu

a selection of the poems offered on this thread. Some might find them too far removed from observation. Or too far from the implication of metaphor. Beyond the pale, as the English used to say. Are they against nature and against haiku rules, or against preference? What makes a haiku believable? I'm reminded of a Peter Yovu essay that four years ago appeared in a frogpond 31:1

"Perhaps all that is called for here is more openness and honesty about the role of imagination in our haiku, and giving ourselves permission to be "authentic" in ways that go beyond received notions of what that means. For some people it means experimenting with writing purely from the "imagination" and finding out what is real in it. The worst that can happen is that what you write will strike you as false, though the false, as you may have discovered, is often a cover-up for what's true, and a way station toward it."

thank you.

Perhaps you've (re)started a chain. More poems anyone?
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