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Messages - barrow

oh hey, well now i found it! wouldn't you know, as soon as i give up and go asking for help...

(would still be interested to know where Gordon found 'A Day in the City of Lakes' as i cannot find it in my copy of Paz Collected Poems...)
i seem recall a series of haiku by Octavio Paz that was translated and posted on somebody's blog (i think) a few years ago. (perhaps Chris Gordon?) but now i can't find them.

does anyone remember this? know where they can be found?

the poems revolved around a handful of images -- variations and rearrangements of 'white palaces' 'lakes' 'temples' 'processions of animals' if my memory serves me.

curiously, i have never seen or heard of these anywhere else, not even in my book of Paz's Collected Poems, or at least the version i have.

any help in tracking these down would be greatly appreciated. thanks!
I see personification all over the place in haiku.  But the best poems that employ personification often go about it in very sneaky or subtle ways.  Sometimes it emerges from intentionally ambiguous language in which the speaker, some other person, or simply a human quality becomes merged with an inanimate object.  I also see a lot of personification taking place in the transference of qualities between two juxtaposed images.  In these instances it's more implicit.  In the compressed form of the haiku, the reader simply cannot help but associate the qualities of the independent images with one another. 

Maybe we should be asking, where do we draw the line with personification?  I get the feeling every poet secretly wants to and tries to personify inanimate objects.  Deep down, I think we're all animists.  To a large extent, I think it's just an unavoidable human habit.  Inevitably, we project our feelings onto the world around us.  But there's an art to doing this in a way that lets others share in this natural experience -- showing them, not telling them, that the moon is sleepy.

I hope he wont mind me posting it here, but one poem by Scott Metz that's really stuck with me comes to mind as an example of this.

how we've. grown.
intimate. w the. sea
the. last. few. river. teeth.

-Scott Metz (R'r 12.1)

Is there not personification in this poem?  Strictly speaking, no.  We don't have a confused, bipolar, angry, or resigned river.  But we do have a river with teeth.  Yet, if necessary, we can still regard that detail as no more than a picturesque way of describing waves -- if necessary and if we want to.  But why do we want to?  Only because personification is a no-no?  More importantly, the poem implies that the river grows intimate with the sea in the same manner that 'we' have.  That's getting pretty close to personification.  But, of course, it is not explicitly stated.  In fact, this is the reader's own act of projection!   And there's the beauty of it.  Scott makes us do the personifcation for him.  Sneaky!  He pulls us into the experience.  Not only that, he does so in a way that echoes the theme of the poem itself, growing intimate, and apparently with some reluctance.  We have the sense in those teeth that there is some fight against the loss of individuality that comes with intimacy -- when we join the sea.  Furthermore, I like to wonder who 'we' are.  Who is speaking?  What's to say that we aren't rivers? 

This is such a cool poem for so many reasons, I could go on about it ad nauseum.  But I'm interested in what you or others might think.  Would also be interested in seeing other examples of good approaches to personification.

Great question, Chase!

I think I know where Peter and tray are coming from in their hesitancy to post their thoughts.  Perhaps I was too brief in my original reply, but mostly I was curious to see how others might respond before allowing myself to get too involved, especially since so many of you here have extensive experience with haiku as it is perceived and practiced in the wider world. 

That being said, I read Peter's response with particular interest.  I'm thankful he decided to share, and look forward to hearing more.  Likewise, for the sake of discussion, I might as well share my thoughts.  Given my scant haiku creds, I hope you won't think me too presumptuous for doing so.  Anyway, here goes . . .   

As Peter observes, social relevance is bound to mean different things to different people.   But even among the few responses posted thus far, I think we can see two major ways of framing the matter.  When we look for social relevance, are we asking if haiku can appeal to and enrich the lives of a wide range of people?  Or, are we asking if haiku is capable of incorporating and commenting upon themes of real significance in contemporary society?  The first question relates to haiku's public place.  The second relates to its poetics and greater meaning.     

Alan and Gabi make a good case for haiku from the first standpoint.  Their experience suggests that haiku can still appeal to a modern public, a quality which hearkens back to the old idea of haiku as a popularly accessible form in contrast to the dense and complex style of court poetry.  Professor Haruo Shirane comments on this democratic aspect of haiku in his essay 'Beyond the Haiku Moment':

'There is no poetry like haiku when it comes to this.  Haiku has a special meaning and function for everyone.  It can be a form of therapy.  It can be a way to tap into one's psyche.  Haiku can do all these things.  And it can do these things because it is short, because the rules are simple, because it can focus on the moment'.  (

For cultivating a social place for haiku, I think Alan exemplifies a type of haiku bodhisattva, as do many other teachers, researchers, publishers, and journal editors.  In terms of my own writing and knowledge of haiku, I owe them enormously.  Without promoters like Alan, we wouldn't even be considering Scott's question. 

But, for those of us who hear the call, a further challenge compels our attention.  Peter is right to point out that Scott specifically asks about poetics.  But, as writers, I think it is only inevitable that we interrogate our  craft if we truly wish to create viable and meaningful art.  Beyond giving haiku a place in society, how do we give our actual poems social meaning?  And, to this end, is haiku a capable form? 

Are the 'spam haiku' mentioned by Alan socially relevant?  Of course, we can always look at them as a sort of social inkblot test.  But, beyond representing blindly expressed symptoms, can we make our haiku part of the therapy? 

And what about the 'junk haiku' Hasegawa Kai describes?  According to Hasegawa, a vast portion of all haiku, in Japan and beyond, falls into this category (  I've written my fair share of junk haiku, like everyone at some point, or so I hope, at least for the sake of my pride.  But, when I'm honest with myself, I can tell when they're cheap or contrived, and I try to catch myself before releasing them on the world. 

To me, writing haiku by the numbers is anything but fulfilling.  Not that it is impossible to write another autumn wind haiku.  To do so has only become an even greater challenge.  Nonetheless, these conventions threaten to preclude honest and original expression.  Often, these haiku are just not all that I want my poetry to be and seem to fall short of my expectations for the remarkable possibilities of which the form is capable.  Of course, many may find it very rewarding to write conventional English language haiku.  There is nothing wrong with that.  It is great that people want to write and share their haiku at all.  But if we truly value the form, we must exercise some discriminating assessment.  We must have some sense for what makes a compelling and meaningful haiku. 

Recently, I read an article lamenting 'haiku ennui'.  In it, the author describes a sort of numbness that threatens to overcome us after reading about spring wind/the playground/all to itself or a snowflake/filling/the beggar's cup for the millionth time.  For our boredom with such poems, the author suggests that we should not blame the poets but our own deficiency of wonder.  We must take these haiku, he argues, as a call to exercise greater empathy.  In my opinion, this is absolutely fatal advice.  To be worthy of the name, art cannot and should not rely upon our empathy and wonder, it should incite it.  This is far more of a western view, I know.  Even Hasegawa speaks of the need for a 'superior reader'.  But how many of them can we expect to import from Japan? 

At any rate, take my examples above.  I wrote them off the cuff just a moment ago, totally uninspired.  They mean nothing to me.  Why should I expect them to elicit feeling in anyone else?  Maybe they'd pass for filler in a rather depressing greeting card.  Maybe there's no harm done if somebody else enjoys them.  But, why did I bother to write them?  And, moreover, are they worth reading?  Do we really want this sort of literature to represent haiku?  What makes them artful or relevant? 

In this vein, Peter's comments on art deeply resonated with me. 

'Poetry, to be poetry, must be in some way revelatory, and that revelation . . . of whatever is hidden, lost or denied is ultimately, eventually beneficial, and socially relevant in ways that may take time to become apparent. . . . The value of any art lies in its ability to draw participants into a deeper understanding of its 'subject matter', bypassing, at least initially, intellection and moving toward intuition'. 

A major element of art, as Peter describes it, hinges upon communicative ability.  We know art when it works, intuitively, as I think Peter implies.  For art to work, it must communicate.  And communication comes through relatability, that is, relevance.  In this respect, I feel that true art will always be socially relevant, and not just for one particular society or century.

So much for art in general, what about haiku?  In our efforts to create honest, communicative, and socially relevant art, will we find that the genre must be abandoned?  And, even if we can take haiku to a higher level, can we do so without sacrificing its democratic character?  Professor Shirane directly addresses this apparent conflict between haiku's mass appeal (so far as poetry is concerned) and its artistic potential.   

'The dilemma is this: on the one hand, the great attraction of haiku is its democracy. . . . However, if haiku is to rise to the level of serious poetry, literature that is widely respected and admired, that is taught and studied, commentated on, that can have impact on other non-haiku poets, then it must have a complexity that gives it depth and that allows it to both focus on and rise above the specific moment or time.'

Shirane goes on to say that this is really a false choice.  Artistry and popular appeal, he claims, are reconciled in the essentially dialogic nature of haiku. 

'One of the assumptions that Basho and others made about the hokku (haiku) was that it was unfinished.  The hokku was only the beginning of a dialogue; it had to be answered by the reader or another poet or painter.  Haikai in its most fundamental form, as linked verse, is about linking one verse to another, one person to another.  Haikai is also about exchange . . . about mutual composition, about completing or complementing the work of others, adding poetry and calligraphy to someone's printing, adding a prose passage to a friend's poem, etc.'

While there may be less activity in collaborative forms today, the process of exchange seems to remain strong in the haiku world and makes for one of the form's most unique and promising aspects.  I am always excited to see the dialogues which emerge between the individual haiku published in journals.  In particular, the editors of A Hundred Gourds and R'r achieve remarkable effects through their choice and arrangement of content.  In my opinion, these dialogues are nothing less than a door open on the collective unconscious.  If that isn't socially relevant, what is?  According to C.G. Jung, we might have averted the First World War and other world crises if only we had known how to interpret such phenomena.  Manifestations of the collective unconscious, he argued, can remind us of our shared humanity and offer guidance in our efforts to address global issues.

But, dialogue, while important, cannot cover the whole problem.  What of our dialogue's content?  What is there to learn from a series of weather-report haiku?  Shirane also comments on the areas which a socially relevant English language haiku might explore and how it might do so.         

'Basho, Buson and other masters [elevated haiku to the status of serious poetry] through various forms of textual density, including metaphor, allegory, symbolism and allusion, as well as through the constant search for new topics.  For North American poets, for whom the seasonal word cannot function in the fashion that it did for these Japanese masters, this becomes a more pressing issue, with the need to explore not only metaphorical and symbolic possibilities but new areas – such as history, urban life, social ills, death and war, cyberspace.  Haiku [in English] need not and should not be confined to a narrow definition of nature poetry, particularly since the ground rules are completely different from those in Japan.'

It is important to note that Scott asks about haiku in English.  Some claim there is no such thing, that what we are discussing here is something else.  True, it is different.  It must be and probably should be, if only because it takes shape in a different language and culture.  But I believe there is a translatable link consisting largely in the techniques which enable the powerful and transformative word and image relationships which characterize great haiku in any language. 

In Poems of Consciousness, Richard Gilbert distinguishes seventeen such patterns and techniques, many of which have ancient precedents.  Contemporary haijin continue to use these methods in ways that can be simultaneously convention-shattering, deeply traditional, revelatory, and primal.  Of course, aside from our fondness for numerology, there is no reason why we must limit ourselves to seventeen typologies.  In a recent essay for R'r, Jack Galmitz expands on Professor Gilbert's own innovative work in English language haiku.  Playing around with these techniques, I see no reason why we shouldn't be capable of composing authentic and socially relevant haiku on any subject.

Why then did I say no in my original post?

I believe we make a fetish of form and relevance of any sort at the peril of our art.  Carl Jung said that religion is a defense against the experience of God.  The poet must throw out all religion and speak from primal, honest, instinctive experience and feeling.  I am reminded of a quote posted on the R'r blog  ( some months ago.

'Art does not permit both artistic genius and artistic form to be studied at the same time.  When the attempt is made, the spirit of genius is taken to be conveyed through form, leading inescapably to the formalization of the spirit itself.  The result is called academicism or mannerism.'

Santoka Taneda speaks to this sense of spirit.

'Real haiku is the soul of poetry.  Anything that is not actually present in one's heart is not haiku.  The moon glows, flowers bloom, insects cry, water flows.  There is no place we cannot find flowers or think of the moon.  This is the essence of haiku.  Go beyond the restrictions of your era, forget about purpose or meaning, separate yourself from historical limitations – there you will find the essence of true art, religion, and science.'

I think Basho's sense of 'uselessness' captures the attitude we must take if we wish to create haiku that are honest, artistic, and relevant.  As writers, it is perhaps more important that we are absorbed with the world than with our message and form.  The medium is the message, and the poet as much as the poem is the medium.  Basho also speaks of the absolute importance of inhabiting the object of one's own poetic attention.

'In composing hokku, there are two ways: becoming and making.  When a poet . . . applies himself to an external object, the color of his mind naturally becomes a poem.  In the case of the poet who has not done so, nothing in him will become a poem; he consequently makes the poem through an act of personal will.' (Hass 234-235)

If a poet who deeply inhabits the world can speak from the core, it is my belief that his or her words will inevitably reflect the zeitgeist in a way which is relevant to all humanity across the centuries.

Believe it or not, I feel like I'm leaving out a lot.  As it is, thanks for putting up with my long-winded post.  I also wanted to comment on the haiku I chose as an example in my original response, but I've said more than enough for the moment.

I would, however, like to offer just a couple more examples of haiku for consideration,

in a tent in the rain i become a climate
-Jim Kacian

sperm whale sleeping losing weight on the couch
-Jim Westenhaver 

Interested to see where this will go . . .

haiku is a useless thing, and the haiku poet is a useless person

how cruel
under the helmet
a cricket chirps

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