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Messages - Scott Metz

going in another direction (to get it into play) . . . Jack G brought up the long history of transformation/metamorphosis in Western culture (as does Richard Gilbert in his essay i mentioned previously): Ovid's Metamorphosis, Greek myths, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus

[an engaging ku about self, society, and Jesus]:

trying to scrape
the bar code
off of Jesus' face

—John Sandbach

; Kafka's "Metamorphosis". At some point it might be interesting and revealing to discuss "Magical Realism" (Borges, Garcia Marquez, Murakami, Nabokov?)—something i see as related to this topic and a possibly interesting angle to study haiku.

Richard notes in his essay: "a larvae spins a cocoon, emerging as a butterfly; coal becomes diamond; carbon dioxide, limestone. The hero transforms him or herself, confronting initiatory challenges through stages of life. Snakes shed skins, seed becomes flower, magicians transform flowers into pigeons. Computer-generated s/fx morph reality in cinema – metamorphosis is a given in dreams." 

There are, of course, the seasons themselves—their little changes and major swings.

It seems important to also note the concept of transformation and metamorphosis in Japanese culture and literature as well though. Some quotes from The Fantastic in Modern Japanese Literature: the subversion of modernity by Susan Jolliffe Napier:

"If form is taken as a determinant of identity, then it is hardly surprising that a cultural preoccupation with metamorphosis should surface at times of deep transition."

"But it is also true that the theme of metamorphosis has as deep roots in Japanese culture as it does in Western civilization. From the traditional setsura describing animals turning into humans, to the many depictions of the so-called transformer robots in contemporary science fiction comics and films, Japanese culture also shows a consistent fascination with transformation, in particular the crossing of boundaries between human and inhuman."

"The Shinto religion posits the kami nature in humans, animals, and inanimate things such as rocks and waterfalls."

"Buddhism has its notion of the karmic cycle suggesting potential bestiality in humans and humanity in animals" (reincarnation).

She also notes "the internal alternative self", "the internal alien", mentioning Natsume Soseki and his novel I am a Cat. A ku of transformation by him, tied to reincarnation:

into a man
as tiny as a violet
may i be reborn!

Japan, like nearly every culture, also has its shapeshifters: foxes, tanuki, the snow woman/fairy/queen. And they've made their way into haiku now and then:

the snow fairy suddenly changes
her heart
a bridge at dusk

—Junko Yamada

The fox   
changes himself into a young prince;   
the spring evening

—Buson (tr. by R.H. Blyth)

And, in relationship to reincarnation, self, and nature/the wild, Issa wrote and played with it:

when will it become

a cricket's nest?

my white hair

dewdrops forming—
when might I become

grass . . . or a tree?

looks like the topics of Persona, Identity, and Masks are finding their way into play, and how they relate to transformation and metamorphosis.

Tsuboichi Nenten discusses this issue of Persona extensively with Richard Gilbert. The actual interview can be watched here: "The Poetic Self 2: 'Haigō' —Masaoka Shiki and Haiku Persona"

wherein he sez: ". . . having not only a usual self with a usual name; being not only an individual human being—but several personalities within a poet's psyche: this can make one's haiku much more interesting. And this is my philosophy."

& right before this sez: "This was once the traditional haiku poet's, so to say, 'way' (mode, path) of creation."

"Shiki used more than 100 names!"

". . . using only one's real name causes a poet to become isolated (alienated); tends to cause restriction, compositional limitation."

for me, this concept links to Haruo Shirane's statement that, "The joy and pleasure of haikai was that it was imaginary literature. . . . For Bashō, it was necessary to experience everyday life, to travel, to expose oneself to the world as much as possible, so that the poet could reveal the world as it was. But it could also be fictional, something born of the imagination. In fact, you had to use your imagination to compose haikai, since it was very much about the ability to move from one world to another. Bashō himself often rewrote his poetry: he would change the gender, the place, the time, the situation. The only thing that mattered was the effectiveness of the poetry, not whether it was faithful to the original experience" ("Beyond the Haiku Moment";

some examples of ku that have already been presented, and others, that perhaps link to this concept of identity/persona/mask and transformation/metamorphosis:

summer festival—
my Astro Boy mask
has lost its power

—Fay Aoyagi

faces with no mask
turned into masked faces
around the fire

—Uda Kiyoko

the raven has flown
away: flapping his wings
on the moor, the man

—Saito Sanki

which would also be interesting as this:

the raven's flown away flapping his wings on the moor the man

You and I:
either one of us
a spring dream

—Masako Tsuzawa

May storm
  if I become silent
I'll vanish

—Bin Akio

   the cool pillow—
stuffed with pale lives
   i've sloughed off

—William M. Ramsey


i seemed to have subconsciously picked up where Richard Gilbert began:

"Notions of Metamorphosis in English"

i'd like to throw out a bunch more examples in this reply (my apologies if they are too many) that i think relate to transformation. Lorin used the word "metamorphosis" and perhaps i should have used that in the first place, as i like how it relates as an allusion with Franz Kafka's novella "The Metamorphosis"—a completely implausible tale, but, nevertheless, extremely emotional and a fantastical journey of relationships, family, social class, love, etc. Not that anyone is necessarily saying this, but haiku can do this too. The implausible is rich territory to explore with our ku. As said by someone or other, sometimes the fictional is far more real than the "true".

Two quick notes first before more examples of more metamorphoses.

i feel that Jack is right in that the Tohta ku is a metaphor, and i like John's association with "rebellion". Here is another translation of it that makes the metaphor/simile obvious:

After hateful words,
I roar off
like a motorcycle.

(tr. by Lucian Stryk)

Fay notes that her 'swan' ku in issue 28.2 (2005) of Frogpond was inspired in part by another poem, which i think gives her poem more depth, playing with both the vertical (past) and horizontal (present) axes simultaneously:

my wife on New Year's Eve
taking a bath
as though she is a swan

—Sumio Mori

New Year's bath—
I fail to become
a swan

—Fay Aoyagi

One poet i found again yesterday in looking for more examples who writes a lot about metamorphosis, or transfiguration (as Ueda notes), is Mitsuhashi Takajo. Her years are 1899-1972. Very much the 20th c poetess. Some examples:

climb this tree
and you'll be a she-devil—
red leaves in the sunset glow

up on a hydro pole
the electrician turns
into a cicada

the southerly wind
becoming a peacock
challenges death

the aged person
wanting to become a tree
embraces a tree

(all tr. by Makoto Ueda in his anthology *Far Beyond the Field*)

Other examples i found from this anthology:

turned into blossoms
or drops of dew?
this morning's snow


inhaling urban dust
and turning it into flesh
a carp-shaped banner

—Takeshita Shizunojo

having eaten a lizard
how carefully the cat
licks its own body!

—Hashimoto Takako

faces with no mask
turned into masked faces
around the fire

—Uda Kiyoko

white leek
turned into light beam
now being cut up

—Kuroda Momoko

Some examples of English-language ku i like:

white raven
being this . . .
and that

Robert F. Mainone

*One* reading of this one by Mainone could be transformation/metamorphosis. Other readings are certainly possible. But i like the possibility of the white raven being (changing into) this and that (snow, the tip of a mountain, a cloud, the poet's shadow, etc.... Of course it could very well be the unstated "I" that is being considered.

under a stainless steel
a country disappears

Jacob Kobina Ayiah Mensah

Here the change is not into something else that's tangible but into *nothingness*. And the intriguing question i return to in this one is "why?". i feel this is an extremely well done ku that is politically charged, showcasing the changes that have gone on in the world over the last two centuries, dealing with colonialism, imperialism, globalization, and reflecting on culture. i'm reminded of the novel *Things Fall Apart*. A powerful poem i think.


+  forest

—Aram Saroyan (1968)

a fork in the
the road turning into a
a clock

—Peter Yovu

And a few more from *The Haiku Universe for the 21st Century* anthology that i think contain elements of metamorphosis/transformation:

More and more quickly
my lungs are turning blue—
a trip by sea

—Hōsaku Shinohara

Beat of a war drum
in autumn desolation
turns into
a contusion

—Shigenobu Takayanagi

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

—Mikajo Yagi

As a single drop
of moonlight
I am walking

—Shōshi Fujita

When the frozen butterfly
finally reaches its end:
a hundred towers

—Yasumasa Sōda

And one last one, by Bashō:

  A crow
has settled on a bare branch—
  autumn evening.

(from *Essential Haiku* by R. Hass)

on a bare branch
a crow has alighted . . .
autumn nghtfall

(tr. by Ueda)

But this might only work with/for the above translation, which i think it's possible to read as:

crow + bare branch = autumn evening

and, therefore, a transformation into a . . . climate?

Hiroaki Sato's version defeats this notion though:

On a dead branch crows remain perched at autumn's end


Yes, i see how the word "become" is not the most desirable. Or simply will not work or be agreeable. I suppose "turning into" also has its downside. They are, for lack of a better word, "easy" to toss in.

Certainly though, transformation can be implied in a number of other ways, through indirect language, as Jack shows in his revision.

Here a few, all by Fay Aoyagi, all excellent in my approximation, about transformation using "become":

(the failure to transform; equally, if not more, powerful):

New Year's Eve bath—
I failed to become
a swan

(the transformation of something highly personal, yet outside oneself):

cold rain—
my application
to become a crab 

(the imaginative subjective; an implied "I" somewhere in here?):

the hunter and the hunted
a black balloon becomes
a hole in the sky

And a marvelous ku by George Swede, intertextually playing with Virgilio's "lily" ku:

a face beseeching
before it becomes
a water lily

i find this ku by Tohta to be incredibly fresh and enchanting. For me it has controlled intensity, simplicity, mystery, a balance of the dangerous/sinister and lightness/the ephemeral. It's an engaging image that invites the imagination, invites contemplation, and invites discussion on intertextuality and the vertical axis.

I like that it utilizes the firefly in a totally fresh way, instead of so much of the saccharine/Hallmark poems (oh isn't the firefly so *pretty*!) we normally see using the firefly/fireflies.

Of course it could be read metaphorically, as mentioned by others, instead of reading it in a hyper-literal way (far too often done unfortunately), or imaginatively as a creation/reflection of emotions and situation, or in the context of the "vertical axis" in which it would connect with mythologies, literature and culture (which Tohta himself revealed to be true). I think it is the mythological element (or the implied mythological element) that grabs me most about it. The mysteriousness of the way in which the images are combined; that they become something new. The ku feels like a kind of new mythology that is being shown. For me that is powerful and comes across in the English versions of it.

And so this one, for me, has great depth. It connects to so many things all at once (or: the *possibility* of connecting to so many things at once, not just a singular reading), to both the vertical and horizontal axes, with minimalism and freshness.

Also, this Tohta ku *strongly* reminds me of (or reminded me of when i first read it) Bashō's:

pine mushroom—
some kind of leaf
sticking to it

(The Essential Haiku/R. Hass)

from some unknown tree, a leaf
sticking on it

(tr by Makoto Ueda)

matsudake ya shiranu ki no ha no hebaritsuka

in a tent in the rain i become a climate

—Jim Kacian

(Per Diem ku for 7.22.11)

Some really cool things going on in this ku.

There is the "the impossibly true" (caused by its "multi-stops", see below): "the rain i become"; "i become a climate"

Is there not also a request?: "become a climate"?

And so some "misreading as meaning" occurs.

Part of this is caused by the one-line ku technique, coined by Jim: "multi-stops". It all depends where your mind stops, where it needs or wants to stop as it's read. And of course this ku also employs "speedrush", with all the words and images coming quickly, almost all at once, heightened by its minimalism.

There is intriguing repetition (3 "in"s; the 3rd more of a visual repetition than sound, like the first two), emphasizing the rain perhaps (its sound), or perhaps the new climate itself.

The keyword, "rain", invites to explore and create one's own associations, world, season. Specifying season would have been intrusive language-wise, and also close off the mystery, ambiguity and invitation it lends to the reader.

The ku has the physical and consciousness-imaginative feeling of Russian nesting dolls, a ku that takes us further and further, more and more inward, until we are inside the poet and a transformation (the poem's imaginative surprise element) occurs—a leap from "outer" (rain, tent) to "i". So, though i could be wrong, it seems there is some ""semantic register shift" going on here, a little jump inside (poet and reader), with something new created, though everything right up to the end weaves together rather seamlessly and plays off one another.

These and other things about it make it unique to the english language, and showcases how "English-language haiku" is a viable term which is intricately connected and indebted to Japanese haiku, yet uniquely its own thing in English poetry as well.

With regards to transformation, which seems like a vital theme of this ku, and something i find especially successful about this ku, i am reminded of Kaneko Tohta's transformation poem:

After a heated argument
I go out to the street
and become a motorcycle

(tr. by Makoto Ueda)

What other ku can you think of that have this transformation element?

What else is going on this ku?

Creating a vocabulary to work with can indeed be extremely valuable and i believe a number of people have already produced some remarkable writing in this regard.

Of course there is kigo/season words, which have already long been a cornerstone and remain very important to many poets.

Expanding from this are keywords, which, though they lack season, expand our definition of nature and the wild with such examples as mountain, cloud, ocean, rocket, knife, etc. Universal words—promoted and sort of put forward for consideration in some way or another by such poets as Kaneko Tohta, Ban'ya Natsuishi, Jim Kacian (Beyond Kigo: Haiku in the Next Millennium: and Richard Gilbert (The Season of 'No-Season' in Contemporary Haiku:

Haruo Shirane has also already given us some vital vocabulary in my opinion: the vertical and horizontal axes. The horizontal axis being "the present, the comtemporary world; and the . . . vertical, leading back into the past, to history, to other poems." This from his game-changing essay "Beyond the Haiku Moment" wherein he posits, among other things, that if Bashō and Buson were around these days "they would probably feel that the vertical axis, the movement across time, was largely missing" (

Richard Gilbert's Poems of Consciousness (PoC) offers a plethora of vocabulary one can use when discussing haiku in relation to language, consciousness and art. His essay, "The Disjunctive Dragonfly" offers a virtual cornucopia of disjunctive vocabulary for poets and academics of poetry that includes: (1) perceptual disjunction, (2) misreading as meaning, (3) overturning semantic expectations, and (4) linguistic oxymoron. Plus thirteen additional cognitive shifts found in haiku including: (5) imagistic fusion, (6) metaphoric fusion, (7) symmetrical rhythmic substitution, (8) concrete disjunction, (9) rhythmic disjunction, (10) the impossibly true, (11) displaced mythic resonance, (12) misplaced anthropomorphism, (13) unsatisfactory object, (14) pointing to the missing subject, (15) semantic register shift, (16) elemental animism, and (17) irruptive collocation. As Randy Brooks noted in his review of PoC, "these types are ripe for exploration," and hopes that, "Gilbert and others seek examples and discussions of haiku employing his categories in the future" (

Perhaps this would be something we could do/explore with the Per Diem poems presented on THF website each day (?).

Also, recently, Jim Kacian published his short essay, "The Way of One" (, pages 64-70) in the journal i edit, Roadrunner. In this piece he focuses on English-language haiku written in one line and the vocabulary we can use when discussing the poetic and language techniques employed when writing them and, like Gilbert, the way they affect the reader's intake of them. He uses such vocabulary as "one line–one thought", "speedrush" and "multistops". When writing about his term "one line-one thought", Jim uses the phrase "Kubrickian", which i especially like.

In Richard's PoC, Hasegawa Kai discusses in an interview with him some really challenging and important vocabulary: ba (the literal place/environment/atmosphere) and how kire (cutting)—an extremely important concept and technique, very relevant in relation to RGilbert's disjunctive techniques mentioned above as well as JKacian's one-line haiku vocab—relate to one another. JKacian also wrote about ba in his "So:ba" essay (

I would love to see more discussion about kire and another term discussed by Hasegawa Kai: ma ("space—"betweeness," alternate dimension or time, a psycho-poetic interval of betweeness—non-literal reality arising as resonance, between and through words, and beyond them"). A most interesting vocabulary term for haiku and the poetry world to utilize, and one i think about more and more when i write.

And i'm not sure if anyone has gotten their hands on it yet, but there is a new book by the Kon Nichi Translation Group, a translation of a speech given my Kaneko Tohta (he just won't give up trying to be special) entitled Ikimonofuei: Poetic Composition on Living Things (Red Moon Press, 2011). Ikimonofuei is a term (vocabulary?) he uses with the intention "to be placed in opposition to Takahama Kyoshi's term kachofuei (poetic composition on birds and flowers), as the sense of his term remains problematic." A wonderful short read for anyone interested (in addition, he explains his love for older haiku, especially Issa, not just modern/contemporary). Perhaps most importantly he discusses Shiki's concept of shasei, and shows how incredibly maligned and misread it has been over the years directly because of Kyoshi (not surprising considering he was a megalomaniacal fascist). One revelation being that Shiki "never used the term "objective"" and that "subjectivity was an extremely important aspect of haiku composition for [him]. . . ".

Personally, i have become completely annoyed and fed-up with the whole "this is what the EAST does/this is the EAST" (no ego, no I, nirvana-blissed out detachment) and "this is what the WEST does" (EGO!, horrid, rampant individualism) divide; that the East is good and the West is bad for these reasons. It's ahistorical, blown out of proportion, completely untrue, and completely unhelpful as a way of talking about haiku or poetry in general. Not only ahistorical but reductive, overly simplistic and extremely narrow. It makes all of Japanese haiku sound like they are and should be (ELH as well) a reflection of a Buddhist paradise, monastically zen, and if one is not subscribing to that way of writing then it is wrong somehow, or against the rules, deviating from the norm, or something silly like that. It's not that the Zen/Buddhist, "objective" aspect of Japanese haiku isn't there or isn't important or relevant, it's just been completely overblown, misread, and too heavily promoted as "the way", and seems to have caused serious discussion and progress in composition to be greatly hampered (probably thanks, of course, to Blyth and Kerouac/Snyder). I think it's become, in many ways, a really pretentious, cliched, and phony way of composing, and expecting others to do the same. It's an over fascination with "the other" that really impinges serious discussion and better poems. I find the continued emphasis to be just so tiring; worst of all, it, and "hyper-literalism", continue to infuse the creation of seriously bad poetry. I just reread Yatsuka Ishihara's Red Fuji collection, translated by Tadashi Kondo and William J. Higginson, and he (not a radical by most standards) had some really interesting things to say with regards to this (from the intro):

"Yatsuka stresses looking inward rather than only looking at nature . . . . His expression "introspective shaping" means "shaping the scenery of the human mind." "The season word (kigo) is a window to the mind." He looks outside to inside through the window of kigo. He doesn't simply want his disciples to see flowers, trees, and landscapes simply, but as reflections of the mind. "Everything", he says, "exists within the mind to begin with." He wants haiku to express and unveil the mind and feeling. "In haiku," he says, "the subject is always I, but the I is implied,  not directly expressed. Whatever the subject, whether you, he, she, or it, it is always I." (my emphasis). To not use "I" in the Japanese language, especially for something as short as a haiku, is certainly convenient; it would take up room; and so the implication is there (and having now, rereading Makoto Ueda's Anthology of Modern Japanese Haiku, there are quite a lot of poems where he uses "I" in the translations). In English, it's no big deal throwing in a single syllable for the sake of clarity at times.

Anywayz, i've rambled more than enough.

i keep coming back to this one by William M. Ramsey:

   slicing a melon
the seeds clinging to
   what they know

(Frogpond 33.3)

it has everything going for it.

The Haiku Foundation has created The Touchstone Awards for Best Individual Poems published in 2010:

And anyone who has had at least one haiku or senryu written in English and published in 2010 can nominate poems.

I thought it would be fun and interesting to open things up to those on this new forum though and ask:

What was your favorite English-language ku that was published in 2010? And, of course: Why?!

If you feel strongly about your choice, and haven't done so yet, go to the link above and nominate it for the Touchstone 2010 Award (by December 31st!).

My guess is that you might certainly have more than one. For this forum topic though, it might be advantageous (though i could certainly be wrong) to limit your selections to 1 to 3 ku.

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