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Messages - Paul Miller

Hi Meg / Alan,

I think "dandelion antsronauts" is an interesting poem. Is it a haiku? Not sure. Does it matter? Well... I am the editor of Modern Haiku, not Modern Any Kind of Poem, so yes it does—to me. That doesn't necessarily mean I wouldn't publish a poem if I find it haiku-like. I publish many things that I can't strictly call haiku (whatever that means), but they are in some orbit of haiku; they test my understanding of what I consider to be the genre's boundary. Hopefully they test others' boundaries as well.

That said, there are lots of magazines (Noon, Lilliput Review, islet, etc) that publish other kinds of little poems. I don't worry about them not finding a home. 

Dear Agnes,

The latest issue of Modern Haiku went out on time back in June, however the website is a bit behind (my fault). The winning poems were:

First Place: Rebecca Lilly

The life behind the one
I think I'm living —
daylily pollen in wind

Second Place: Judt Shrode

mesa wind
flutes the mouths of clay vessels
spring snow

Third Place: Lesley Anne Swanson

that old tune ...
knots in my shoelace
coming loose

Honorable Mentions (unranked):

losing you slowly
the incremental way light
leaves the day

James Chessing

butterflies feeding blossoms
a boy with a net
catching sunshine

Robert Witmer

my footprint fades
with the turning tide
hint of whale song

Tracy Davidson

darkness falling into the stars between us

Natalia L. Rudychev

wind chimes in winter
through broken glass

Robert Witmer
Hi Folks,

A reminder that there is still time to enter the Robert Spiess Memorial Haiku Contest. This contest was established to honor the longtime editor of Modern Haiku.

Deadline: In hand by March 13, 2015.

Details can be found at the Modern Haiku website:

Good luck!

Field Notes / Re: Field Notes 7: Off-topic #2
August 27, 2014, 08:19:18 PM
Hi George (and all),

Your question is timely. I think an argument could be made that these are haiku (all are cut, some have season elements) and they reverberate when put together. For example, in

          firefly       violin

we find two elements that aren't dissimilar (I might go so far as to say they are images). One is visual, one is aural, and there is a warmth to them. They have what renku writers call a "scent link."

          Hiroshima       Phoenix

is much more powerful, and again, they share impressions: a cloud rising, a bird rising, both with flames, both with rebirth. And isn't that reverberation what the elements of a haiku should create? 

That said, as words on their own they don't create any kind of scene, any kind of context, so the reverberation is more intellectual than "felt." I'm not being given the scene or picture a normal haiku usually gives me. I'm having to work a little harder. But is that bad?

I said above that I might go so far to call them images, and I'm going to hedge on that a bit. The pairing itself isn't an image since we aren't told how they combine and where, but the reader could create one themselves. For example, in "firefly      violin", I could imagine this as a field in which I am seeing fireflies while a friend plays the violin. We're having a sunset picnic.

I tend to think of haiku as a shared art, and prefer to have the reader and writer be somewhat close in their individual readings. I think expecting that shared experience in these cases is asking a lot. But I do not dismiss them. I find them very interesting.

Field Notes / Re: Field Notes 7: Off-topic discussion
August 11, 2014, 02:47:13 PM
Among other things, I think this poem interestingly speaks to the notion of translation. A poem like Basho's frog pond is probably "fairly" straightforward to translate since for the most part its pieces are objective and relate in logical ways. Not necessarily in the sense of explaining the cut parts, but we know what an old pond is, we know what a frog jumping is.

The "blue mathematics" haiku, on the other hand, is very abstract, and as we have seen "blue" might not even be the right word (as in: preferred by the poet over the choice of "natural" etc). This is not a critique of the translators who are doing their best with what they have—which is most often not the poet themselves.

I have always thought of haiku as a shared activity, where a poet tries to share his "moment" or impression or experience with a reader. When the pieces are fairly objective I think a translation can capture the poet's intent, and thus allow the reader to discover it as well—or at least get close. For abstract poems I'm not sure that is true. As Lorin asks, why blue? And what does that have to do with mathematics? In a way we have multiple cuts of meaning; the poem ceases to be cut once between the two parts, but additionally between individual words. I think my interpretation of sadness (from the blues) is most likely a western construct and probably has nothing to do with the poem. But I don't know.


ps. I happily acknowledge that there may be a range to my idea of sharing, and that perhaps some poets ask me to create my own poem/moment from the raw materials.  ala "Language poetry". While I find such poems engaging, I do wonder how they fit into the haiku "tradition" with its basis in sharing (ala renku).
Field Notes / Re: Field Notes 7: Off-topic discussion
August 08, 2014, 01:44:58 PM
Dear Richard,

You write: "The experience (reader phenomenology) of a haiku is a different matter than what exists as published text. The text itself is in black & white on the page. Because this haiku appears in English with Japanese kanji/romaji, and is penned by a noted poet, the text, in terms of translation, is treated as finished. I hope you grasp the difference."

Are you dismissing active participation with the poem by the reader? Clearly there are a number of poems here: the original, the translation, and my interpretation of the translation. All are valid poems. Since the poet has shared his version with us I believe he is giving us explicit permission to create our own reading. Phillip was correct that my "version" was a paraphrase of what I thought the poem meant—not a haiku itself (please give me some poetic credit). But frankly, your translation is a paraphrase of what you think the haiku means. The fact that you chose "blue" over "natural" proves that.

I'm perhaps more troubled by my perception that you seem to over-value process and newness than result. If someone slaps me in the face I don't so much care that they are foreign, did it in a new way, and under the watch of a morally-corrupt government; I'm concerned about the pain. I get that you and others like this poem for a variety of interesting reasons, and I sincerely think that's wonderful; I am just not one of those.


ps. for what it is worth, the essay "New Rising Haiku" doesn't address the circumstance of the haiku's composition, other than the social-political that you mention. So I don't know if he wrote this standing over the dead body of a friend or from his apartment. I'd hardly equate the two.
Field Notes / Re: Field Notes 7: Off-topic discussion
August 07, 2014, 07:21:31 PM
Dear Richard, (or Agent Provocateur or chimp (I kind of got lost in there somewhere) :)

Thanks for the better understanding of the translation. I was reading "blue" as from "the blues" so you can see where I got my sense of sadness. It seemed fitting given the war context.

That said, I have every right to question the "genius" of any poet, foreign or not. And since haiku are considered unfinished until done so by the reader (another foreign genius said that) the turning of the original into an animal of my own making is expected.

Perhaps, in this case, the matter comes down to my desire to have an immediate shared experience. Some form of communication. The phrase "war dead" to me asks for a serious reading, not to instead make those bodies into an intellectual curiosity or puzzle. Maybe that's why I find it clever instead of heartfelt.  I simply wonder if the "blue mathematics" haiku couldn't have been written better to give me that. This is something I struggle to say because there are times when I like an abstraction, when I welcome them. A glance at my short tenure at Modern Haiku will hopefully attest to that. So I don't have an objection to them per se.

Sometimes, however, they seem out of place.

     A: "I'm a Sanitation Engineer."
     B: "So you create studies of waste usage and design better methodologies for its management?"
     A: "Uh... no"
     B: "What do you do?"
     A: "I pick up the trash from in front of your house."

Yet, I could understand Suugaku's possible reluctance to engage the "war dead" at face value, and perhaps wish to insert a metaphor in-between for comfort... distance. To borrow from Mr. Rowland... to deal with "the nearly inexpressible" thoughts... the feelings of hopelessness. That distance is something I try to avoid in my poetry, so my reading is obviously subjective. And I recognize how easy it is for me to say that, not being in a war. However I don't know the circumstances of this poem's composition.


Field Notes / Re: Field Notes 7: Challenge
August 05, 2014, 05:32:57 PM
I recently finished pasting up the haiku for the next issue of Modern Haiku, and it wasn't until I had finished that I realized its relation to this question.

Every poem I read is a challenge to my idea of haiku as well as my practice of haiku. Some poems ingrain my ideas while others break them apart. But the real challenge is to inhabit that confrontation with each poem because each confrontation changes me. Some confrontations I can make sense of; some I can't. Both are equally important. But it begins and ends with honest immersion. I write my little essays (one on gendai for lack of a better word, and more recently one on war haiku) because I am confronted by something I don't understand and hope through examination to better understand it. I also selfishly hope to use some of these new ideas in my own work. Not because they are new (new doesn't necessarily mean better) but because there is something in some of them that I value. I would like to have more humor in my work; trust in more simplicity; find true lightness; conversely, be more surreal.

Lately I am seeing a lot of very modern haiku or poems that border on haiku. Another challenge is where is that line? Some will rightly argue that such a question isn't important, but as the editor of a "haiku" journal it is for me. To borrow from Michelle's examples above:

     war dead
     exit out of a blue mathematics

     -- Sugimura Seirinshi (trans. Richard Gilbert and Ito Yuki)

I have pondered and pondered this haiku, approaching it from a number of angles, and I think it fails. It is a bunch of twenty-five cent words when five cent words would have done. One challenge in this poem is to stand up to the new orthodoxy and point out its lack of pants. Yet...

     the blood rushing through my blowhole winter stars

     -- Scott Metz

is delightful and invites new readings. Only today do I read "blowhole" in another way. Metz interests me because through his work I often feel as if I am approaching a corner from whose other side I hear the sound of a brass band (for example) only to turn the corner and discover an orange tree.  In looking at the posts above I see a number of the "new haiku" as examples, which is great, but there are equally challenging haiku in the traditional vein. One challenge is to find them, and confront them as well.

Those who know me know that I don't feel like I am ever on solid ground, and I believe that through  my interactions with the world (haiku being the documentation of those) I will better understand this place; but I also suspect that these confrontations will reveal it to be less stable than previously believed. My challenge is to keep turning the corners.

Paul Miller
Field Notes / Re: Field Notes 5: Criticism
February 11, 2014, 02:20:31 PM
Hi Eve,

My comment re: Santoka and Hosai was not referenced toward your comments at all, rather they were convenient names to make a small point. Sorry if you felt it did so.

To elaborate on my "shock" haiku comment. Not directed toward Santoka and Hosai. Rather, Peter's comment that many haiku seem like they could be written by any one of a number of good haiku poets seems a call toward creating stronger, more individual voices (a good thing). The goal (questionable thing) being to reach further (if at all) into the poetic main-stream. He also suggests that this main-stream will want poets rather than poems. I agree. How often do we see "based on a true story" in movies? That shouldn't matter; the art of the movie should hold its own, not need to be propped up. To get back to my "shocking" comment. There is a painting in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art which is a red circle on a white background. It was probably intellectually shocking when it was painted (as a reaction to realism or whatever was in vogue those days), but in my mind it has no lasting value, no art—just shock in an intellectual way. I worry that to get noticed by the larger poetic community poets will have to start writing "shocking" haiku rather than art. I've seen a lot of bad haiku that tries to shock through overt (but unnecessary) sexual references and language. My feeling is that the poet thinks they are writing cutting edge stuff because of the subject matter alone. Such poems may solve the ghettoization of haiku, but at a cost. However this is more a pondering than a real concern. I don't think any genre (sonnet anyone?) will ever make much of a splash in the larger scene.

I like to think my haiku, being based on my life, and through my voice, have some individualism to them. But I worry less about that than if I am writing something I can be proud of. I will surmise, however, that the writings of a middle-aged accountant with no history of drug abuse or mental illness, who works hard and is happily married, will make for poor book jacket copy, and thus poor offerings to the larger market. Let's be honest: hermits and addicts sell books.
Field Notes / Re: Field Notes 5: Criticism
February 10, 2014, 09:15:28 PM
I found this paragraph of Peter's troubling: "For the most part, haiku itself, the idea of it, the ideal of it, has been promoted over the writer him or herself. Some poets considered among the "best" write haiku which could have been written by any number of others. It would seem that anybody can write a good haiku. That is often promoted as one of its charms, what sets it apart from the more "elitist" stance of poetry in general. The problem for me is that many of the poems one finds in the journals and anthologies have exactly the feeling of having been written by . . . anybody."

I agree with Gary that the same could be said of "main-stream" poetry as well (as well as most of what Gary said in total) which makes me worry less about the ghettoization of haiku because I suspect most "main-stream" poetry passes unnoticed by even "main-stream" poets. And I disagree that one of haiku's charms is that anyone can do it. As an editor I can attest that not everyone can. And while it may be true that anyone can learn to write a good haiku, one way I think we distinguish our better poets is by longevity, the writing of many good poems.

More so, I worry that in our search for an individual voice we don't over-value uniqueness over quality. I have wondered aloud if Santoka and Hosai are perhaps overvalued because of their life story. This isn't to say they aren't good poets, but I suspect they wouldn't have come to our attention if they hadn't messed up their lives. Which of course begs the question: can a poet writing about their normal life ever be valued equally as one who had problems? It also asks if we aren't opening the door to poets to write poor but "shocking" haiku in order to stand out from the pack?
Field Notes / Re: FNQ&A: Tom D'Evelyn
December 02, 2013, 08:47:08 PM
Hi Tom,

Forgive the delay in responding.

I was intrigued and a bit puzzled by your comment in the original Proposal: "that there is an "American" assumption that good haiku are written by interesting individuals (see the thumbnails) who display the American virtue of individualism, even iconoclasm. Haiku then would ideally capture something arbitrary in the writer's experience that mark it as unique. This would justify the approach to interpretation that favors impressionism over analysis connecting the text to beliefs shared by others. Perhaps contemporary haiku as envisioned by the editors involves a kind of "will-to-power," a happy-go-lucky nihilism.

I take this (possibly incorrectly) to mean that you favor haiku that are less individualistic. But if haiku are the meeting between the universal and the particular I don't see how this individualism can be avoided. A particular pine tree is not the same to everyone. Despite the notion that a pine tree has a special pine tree-ness outside of my experience (which it does), in a poem or any creative act I stand between the pine tree and the page, and it is viewed through my eyes and my perception. I can go to the pine to learn of the pine, but it is ultimately "my" pine tree I learn about. Until pine trees learn to write their own poems I don't see any way around that fact.
I find these two comments of Peter's interesting:

"In very good poems, you can kind of trace the poet's process-- maybe Oppen's poems are good examples. I think this is one reason many poets dismiss haiku-- they don't appear to have be written in the way I 'm talking about. They appear to be products-- they are all too clear"

"But with poems which are all too clear, which are easily grasped, which appear not to have been written but to have been constructed-- one does not sense the engagement."

Seems to open up a lot of doors. Does this bring us back to the question of whether haiku must be experienced/discovered in order for them to be valid? That somehow "desk ku" which are "constructed" are less so? Or does this hinge on the word "appear" used thrice above, which throws the boiling pot into the hands of the reader. Should our "constructions" be more clouded to be taken seriously? But that seems to fly in the face of clarity.

I avoided this question because it was too big; it was also too small.

Too big for the reasons others have given—that we are all poets, whether short or long, "mainstream" (whatever that means... poetry, after all, is a very small ghetto, and if you asked the average person who Natasha Tretheway was you'd get a blank look; so can you truly call her mainstream?... even if she is the poet laureate) or haiku. There is no point to borders. There is just the work.

But also too small. because you don't learn from a genre but from an individual poem. From hundreds of individual poems. Some wonderful examples given above by others—many names I don't know, but I've jotted down to check out one day. Thanks for those.
I think Don hits the problem with Lamb's poem right on the head when he says, "there is nothing left unsaid." I agree that the poem is full of emotion, but I don't think that emotion makes a poem a haiku. And that's what the question was in this post: it is a haiku? Not, is it a short poem that I can find emotion in? But, is it a haiku?

To me, this feels like half a haiku. It is a statement. This poem is missing a second part that I as a reader can engage with... to find the meaning between the two parts, or more specifically, to find my meaning between the two parts. As it is, the poem paints an emotional scene, but all I am is an observer of the scene. The power of haiku is that it makes the reader a participant in the experience.

Lamb's poem is much like the second half of Michael Welch's that is quoted above:

     "the pull of her hand as we near the pet shop."

This is very similar to Lamb's poem and I can argue we get an emotional response from it. But note the difference between that one line and what we get when we add "spring breeze" as a first line.

As far as "tundra" goes, I have always felt that the second part of that poem was the blank white space of the page.

My two cents

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. 
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