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Messages - Tomdevelyn

Field Notes / Re: Field Notes 7: Off-topic #2
August 25, 2014, 04:34:12 PM
This exercise -- that word isn't loaded -- highlights one of the parameters of haiku practice: when is a noun an image? Firefly may be an "image" depending on your background. Contemporary Haiku -- especially in US with our objectivist culture -- alone among literary forms ASSUMES that nouns are images; most literary forms assume that an image is a conjunction of words, nouns, adjectives, etc. The history of modern poetry is all about image, and the issues raised by Pound in theory and practice are still alive (see discussions of the poetry of Geoffrey Hill, for example).  Perhaps the second word in this new form of haiku will provide that qualification, give the first noun, or "name," some texture and lived reality. Perhaps that's all that will happen in this form. (A discussion of the gap as "cut" will run into difficulties because of the weakness of the noun-as-image experience. The cut as understood traditionally is no mere pause; there is a great discussion of pause in the Penguin Classics Li Po Tu Fu volume ed by Cooper). But in terms of an exercise "generating" some texture through contexture-- by being related to another word -- well, no harm done if one realizes that what this is all about is overcoming the LACK of felt meaning in the noun itself (as opposed to the noun in a given culture, which may not be something a writer, qua writer (qua mindful communicator) should count on.
Field Notes / Re: Field Notes 5: Excellence
February 26, 2014, 06:04:24 PM
For the ancients, excellence is another word for virtue. Aristotle: "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." Apply this to poetry and you see that a poem comes about because of habits of perception and expression, and these habits are acquired by repetition, practice. Poets practice poetry.

The name haiku sticks to lots of different kinds of verse. We need a taxonomy of haiku. Looking at the world-wide phenomenon of haiku-in-English, it seems that there are basically two practices of haiku: one that goes back to the Japanese form, and one that departs from this form. It "seems" this way from the look of the poems on the page. The more traditional haiku, which I shall call hokku, look like what we have been taught a Japanese haiku looks like. The other kind – let's call it ku -- doesn't. I have already discussed a number of "ku" as found in volume 8 of NOON. I shall be posting more pieces on such "ku" at

Hokku reflect traditional practices that have roots in Chinese Taoist culture (see Pipei Qiu, Basho and the Tao). The practice of Taoism is very complex but not impossible today. There is a vivid scholarly debate on just what beliefs Taoism entails; see especially now Brook Ziporyn (Ironies of Oneness and Difference, SUNY 2012). The central belief is that of the Tao as "Mother," the fertile void. Modern interpretations of "Mother" as Nothingness need revamping, according to Ziporyn; Taoism is not to be confused with modern nihilism. Nothing is a relative matter; the Taoist is a relativist. Well, it's complicated, and eventually Taoist coherence is ironic, according to Ziporyn.

The practices that promote hokku may be seen in Mark Brager's piece I found it on the Simply Haiku Winter 2013 website: Brager is a featured poet there.

Quotepale blossoms . . .
the first of many

The way this hokku taps into the fertile void is not as simple as it looks. Essential to the fertile void is finitude: this is nicely touched upon in the "kigo" "pale blossoms." The paleness suggests the finitude of the blossoms: they are almost beyond the pale of the life that they express. The two-line base of the hokku reaches into the contemplative sources of understanding. Within the strictures of temporal existence, pale things, seen in their abundance, almost make one forget finitude, almost give one the feeling of oceanic infinity. This joy is sourced in the fertile void. It has no other ground.

The irony of the poem is that the reference in the base is not to the multitude of pale blossoms but to another multitude, this time one less endearing, perhaps, and certainly marked by difference: blackbirds!

The swerve caused by "blackbirds" reframes the image that had been aborning in the reader's mind. We now know from Ziporyn that this kind of irony is essential to Taoism. That is, the kind of coherence Taoism trains us to "see" is ironic. It is not Confucian; it is not "ideological." It depends on a further, transcendent source of truth, the truth we can never possess but in our best moments may feel truthful to. Hokku is truthful or mindful of such ironic truth.

But without the firm establishment of the community of creatures under the sign of the fertile void, the poetic image is no sign but a sort of echo of a subject, perhaps of the poet, perhaps of a persona the poet assumes when being a poet. At least for the hokku community – and self-awareness regarding these roots is limited by circumstances-- community is rooted in practice, the practice of the Tao.
Field Notes / Re: Field Notes 5: Criticism
February 15, 2014, 03:52:03 AM
Gilbert 's book is clearly a watershed moment in HIE criticism. Through analysis of form, he helps us see a variety of cutting moves in the haiku game. At the same time, his analysis may beg the question for those of us who don't feel alienated from the ethos of Basho as articulated say by Pipei Qieu.  In many short essays on individual haiku from basho to Mark Harris, I have shown how cutting relates to a meditative process. These essays are available at
It may be of interest to some that this meditative process, brilliantly articulated by the traditional haiku cut, is not restricted to haiku. My essays on poems by many poets showing how this meditative process informs individual poems are available on
Finally, the cult of the unique has ideological roots that deserve close attention.
In my own poems, I explore cutting techniques in formats other than haiku. A recent lyric caught the attention of a major player in HIE because a segment of it struck him as suggestive of haiku. Does our fascination with very small texts precondition us to find larger formats lacking intensity?  Do we forget that to be a good haiku, the text must be well written? Well written as prose, as Pound said, or just well-written?
Field Notes / Re: FNQ&A: Tom D'Evelyn
December 28, 2013, 03:48:33 PM
Good point! The individual can be just that pine. I recognize its singularity in analogy with my own singular finite being. My model would be issa's insects but also Julian of Norwich's hazelnut poised over the abyss of God. I'm getting clearer and clearer in my head about this as I get older. I think haiku admirably fit as a mode of expression for self-transcendence through awareness of agapeic being.  It is so because of its double structure. Last night I read David Young's intro to his new Basho and almost threw the book against the wall. He talks about a triple structure and reduces Basho to an American transcendental ego. Drives me crazy. Young should at least read Pipei Qiu on Zhuangzi in Basho.
Right. Much ambiguity here. good! Not so clear. Perhaps objectivism rather than imagism provides the central discourse for the topic clarity. I'd rather see haiku structure as set of open analogies, clear perhaps as narrative/ situation but polyvocal in resonance, ultimately open to mystery of finite existence, that there is anything at all.
All clear!
reading these over in several sittings, getting comfortable with the various voices, seeing continuities amongst all the differences is a rather moving experience, at least for me. My preoccupation with the spaces between philosophy and poetry does not prepare me for the sudden awareness as I read of something like contentment. Each writer has struggled with the demands of this tiny poetic form, each has no illusions about the cost/ benefit ratio. Each shows a devotion that transcends the work, and yet which always returns to the work with few illusions. There is an abiding mystery in this craft.
Religio / Re: Janmashtami
September 10, 2012, 01:36:52 AM
The comic play on emptiness -- by evening the celebrants will have fasted for many hours and will fast until daybreak I assume -- suggest that by combining the two-- maybe an evening train? -- there would be even more resonance!
Light is primal, part of our embodiment. The opacity of each of us helps us understand our fragile finitude. But the light suggests an otherness present, "with us." in my way of thinking, haiku acknowledges both body and light.  Someone has given / a warm scarf / to the scarecrow --Alan Spence.
The body of the poet/reader is doubled by the scarecrow; our fiitude is not in question. Yet that very finitude is a gift. The fusion of images and dimensions in haiku does not obscure the eternal difference, but the reception of gift, the warm scarf, doubles the poem as gift. Haiku again through its elegant bipolar structure-- again not dialectical because the otherness of the scarf is primary -- haiku re-presents gift.
The medievalizing image of the question should't keep us from thinking it through.
The idea that the words should not bring attention to themselves has many applications in various modes of writing. In haiku, it seems to have something to do with meditative experience; but of course that just opens another can of worms. And what about the concept of "voice": the lovely haiku by Lenard D. Moore in Frogpond 34 in memory of Peggy Willis Lyles ("autumn clouds -- / I read To Hear the Rain / for her voice" certain packs a range of ways words "stick out" from the surrounding reality. I think this haiku shows that haiku can carry several dimensions at once and still be haiku.
Can the question be answered by simply pointing to "real poets" -- poets published by literary publishers and discussed in literary journals -- sometimes use haiku forms?
I doubt that pointing solution would satisfy many. I think the question should be: why do we ask this question since there's plenty of evidence that haiku is poetry?
Is the question just sour grapes? As for sour grapes, I have personal experience with publishing works of haiku poetry that illustrate the power of haiku as a literary form and these works have gotten short shrift in the haiku critical media. At Single Island Press, we just published Cor van den Heuvel's A Boy's Seasons: haibun memoirs, a work that should put this question to rest, but so far the criticism has been dismissive and wholly inadequate. I do not doubt the sincerity of the dismissers; what I doubt is their ability to get outside the box and notice a work of haiku that actually moves things forward. Cor's book shows indisputably that haibun is adequate to the job of memoir, one of the most popular literary forms published today. Hello? The question posed in this forum -- long live the fora! -- should make us take a hard look at life in haiku nation.
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