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Messages - Peter Yovu

The anthology is available, among several places, at Amazon US. Highly recommended, not only for the haiku (many names will be known to you, some may not be) but also as a wonderful demonstration  of the liveliness, poignancy, verve and variety of short poetry in general. It works (and plays) as  a model for how to take haiku out of its "ghetto" and place it in conversation with poems that may or may not have been influenced by it.

Peter Yovu

Came across this thread-- I do occasionally come here if only for old times' sake-- and wish
to say that it began with a poem of mine badly misquoted. I believe the correct version is:

the cold behind a question
stars with eight legs

--just to set things straight.
Field Notes / Re: Field Notes 7: Off-topic #2
August 29, 2014, 09:19:07 PM
In her book Centering, first published in 1964,  M.C. Richards included a two word poem:




In the book there was a greater distance between the words. The space is, of course, integral. Interesting that she titled it "POEM". Just to be sure.

Can two words be considered a haiku? Can one, or three?  I think it is possible to be clever and feelingful at the same time— why not?

The MC Richards poem above is both I would say.
Field Notes / Re: Field Notes 7: Off-topic discussion
August 09, 2014, 01:31:54 PM
Very happy to read: "Abstract expressionist artists since Kandinsky have sought representations of this sort of experience that unknowably is".

I have waking and more often hynagogic moments that slide across my consciousness like continents of oil on the skin of a bubble which elude, allude, illude . . .

Ordinary language will not do to say what such experience "unknowably is", and one finds the upwelling of "the twisted pole gone in spare colors" as refreshing rain from the bubble's burst.

Blue. The Dictionary of Word Origins says this:

"Colour terms are notoriously slippery things, and blue is a prime example. Its ultimate ancestor,
Indo-European bhlewos, seems originally to have meant 'yellow' (it is the source of Latin flavus 'yellow' from which English gets flavine 'yellow dye'. But it later evolved via 'white' (Greek phalos 'white' is related) and 'pale' to 'livid, the color of bruised skin' (Old Norse has bla 'livid'. English had the related blaw, but it did not survive, and the modern English word was borrowed from Old French bleu. . ." .

math, n. a mowing. --ME. math, fr. OE. maep, 'harvest, crop' . . .

"blue mathematics" reminds me how little English is spoken in haiku, which typically favors restraint and spare language. To do as Shakespeare did, and Dickinson, and draw from many roots, to yoke Anglo-Saxon and latinate words, or words of Greek origin, so as to juxtapose in sparkful dissemination . . . seems not be the way, perhaps cannot be the way.

And so I often think of  English language haiku as translation, as approximation of Japanese, as examples to give some sense of how haiku is (and does) to those who do not know Japanese, and beyond that as examples of examples. The way forward may be by way of the English language itself. But then, the way forward may not be haiku.
Field Notes / Re: Field Notes 5: Criticism
March 03, 2014, 04:20:15 PM
I am a reluctant moderator-- but nonetheless want to say here that it is important to stay on topic as
much as possible. This does not mean that topics introduced are to be abandoned-- they can be
picked up (by anyone) in a separate thread if so wished. That can be done in the In-Depth Haiku: Free Discussion Area.

The subject of language, in the way it is being used here, is an important one, and I hope it will be looked at, either in the aforementioned way, or as a Field Notes subject in the future. I realize that in many respects the subject relates to criticism and "excellence", but it feels to me to be a subject which requires its own base.
Field Notes / Re: Field Notes 5: Criticism
March 02, 2014, 06:41:55 PM
This follows the immediate topic centered (more or less) on the last several posts related to criticism--
"excellence"-- promoting haiku beyond the "ghetto etc.

Because I heard my high pitched name whistled in a tree in Richard's post, I will go there before saying anything else (and anything else requires of me that I study the past posts a bit).

Richard says:

"There was a negative comment offered previously, that a given author cannot be determined from a given haiku".

I think what I could have said, though it may be no more pleasing, is that many haiku poets often seem to be writing versions of the same poem. Why is this?

It would be hard, in most instances, to determine authorship from one or a few poems. But for some who write haiku, look at a dozen of more of their poems and one can be more certain. I think this is true not
because they have promoted their individuality or sought to be different but because they have not denied it.

Again, I don't equate individuality with ego, but more as what I tried to present in my past post:
being oneself is being open to other.

But here, for me, because I am not skilled at it, (I shy away from agoric hubbub) is where things become potentially sticky and where a patience almost impossible to find on a "forum" is required: many of us have come to very different views about what "the individual", "the author", "the self", and "ego" are.

Field Notes / Re: Field Notes 5: Criticism
March 01, 2014, 02:43:38 PM
This post follows Gary Hotham's recent post above re:  "promoting the work of the best haiku poets so as to reach a wider audience" as stated by Philip Rowland.

Philip goes on to say: "it might be as important for the poets themselves to reach other audiences by reading and submitting their poems to publications that don't specialize in haiku (but might, judging from the poet-reader's interest in the work published there, be interested)"

I think that last part is important. I take Philip to mean here that one may be able to determine the possibility of a journal's willingness to look at haiku by what it has already published. It seems to me a journal which publishes minimalist poetry, for example, might be more inclined to accept haiku than would say, American Poetry Review, or Ploughshares.

However, there are reasons a number of journals put out the "no haiku" sign. One, quite frankly, is that they are looking for poetry. A lot of what is published in haiku journals does not look like, or appear to be poetry. It looks like haiku. In a haiku journal, that may be fine; in  a poetry journal, haiku are likely to stand out as something akin, at best, to translation, as something requiring context.

Qualities that are typically considered to be elements of poetry are often absent in haiku, even what is considered "excellent" haiku. Qualities such as attention to the sounds and rhythms of words or to the image as act of imagination rather than reported picture, while not exactly universals in poetry in general, are rare in haiku. There is a feeling one gets, bolstered by statements made about haiku, that many writers do not see haiku as poetry. If one writes from that point of view, which I am not saying is a bad thing,
perhaps one should not seek publication outside the haiku journals.

I suspect many editors are most open to work that, while it may have a clear form, plays with that form and also tests it. In a sense this is what poetry (or any creative act) is--  a pushing against (womb, world, reality) until something is born.

Haiku, wrongly or rightly, are likely to be seen as asserting and maintaining form. If the energy of creation is reduced to maintaining form, the best one can hope for is a closed system, something which pre-exists and is now replicating itself.

Scott Metz and John Martone are two writers whose work does not announce itself foremost (form-most) as haiku. Gary Hotham's well known poem

sitting here
without the mountains

is included in Succinct   The Broadstone Anthology of Short Poems

which also includes work by poets such as Robert Creeley, Galway Kinnell, and Jane Kenyon. I don't believe the word haiku comes up anywhere in the book. I am reasonably sure that many readers coming upon this poem for the first time and in this context would not decide, upon first or even tenth reading that it is a haiku.

In the context of Modern Haiku, though, one would clearly and happily accept the lineage. In the context of say, Otoliths, which has published some of Metz' work, one is more likely to see very brief, or minimalist, or even avant garde poems.

The haiku community, (roughly defined by someone on this forum I believe as the group of people who publish in the haiku journals), to a large extent provides the context which determines what haiku is. There are certain parameters beyond which a poem is not likely to recognized as haiku by that community. I'm not saying that's a bad thing-- but it's certainly a deeply influential thing. The "ghetto", as Michael Dylan Welch calls it, pretty much maintains itself.

All of which may be less true in the past ten years than it was earlier. The "community" appears to be more porous, which delights some and disturbs others. But I believe that if one is serious about bringing haiku into the greater community of poetry, one essentially risks change. Attempting to publish, in a "mainstream" poetry journal, something which one holds onto dearly as haiku first and foremost and wants to have embraced as such, is in my opinion bound to result in rejection.

If one wants to publish haiku in any of its currently accepted forms, there are numerous journals available-- and I'm glad for that, truly. But seeking publication in other journals requires a degree of exposure to them which may result in one's being influenced by what's beyond the ghetto.

There's a question most of us have no doubt asked at one point or another, perhaps as teenagers:
can one be oneself and at the same time be open to other? The more mature question becomes, can one be oneself if one is not open to other?

The paradox, I believe, applies to haiku.
Field Notes / Re: Field Notes 5: Criticism
February 27, 2014, 05:03:51 PM

I posted a request yesterday whose language, it was pointed out to me, may have been misleading.
Here it is again, clarified.

I've been looking into ways to build a greater degree of coherence into Field Note's discussions. It is inevitable that several topics get picked up at once, and at times get tangled.

For now, what I request is that posters make it as clear as possible which previous post or topic they are following at the beginning of their posts. How does it relate to the overall subject of FN5: criticism?

One focus of this discussion was taken from Michael Dylan Welch's initial post, part of which brought up the issue of promoting and demonstrating excellence-- in individual poems and poets-- in the greater poetry world . Which led me to ask: what is excellence as it relates to haiku? What is the role of the critic in this regard?  What are some examples of poems you regard as excellent? Does the question have implications which trouble you? Etc.

As I said, other topics have emerged. But again, if possible, please identify the conversation you are having at the outset. Locate us in your lineage.
Field Notes / Re: Field Notes 5: Criticism
February 11, 2014, 11:00:00 PM
Much of value to consider here. I for one find this encouraging, that people are willing to explore and inquire.

It may not be a universal problem, but when I think about questions relating to haiku, I quickly come up against the reality that "haiku" is not a single thing, but means different things to different people. This is not a problem so much when one is speaking about poetry in general. It seems to be accepted that poetry takes many forms. I'm not sure if that is the case with haiku; I suspect it increasingly is.

So when we talk about "excellence" in haiku, what are we pointing to? Here I would say that I believe that making distinctions has value. Making distinctions does not (necessarily) equal being divisive. I for one don't mind talking about traditional, or modern, or innovative approaches to haiku. They give some needed vocabulary in looking at different things haiku do. They are starting points for understanding each as it is.  But only starting points, which may be discarded as one goes further.

And of course, within those general distinctions, there are more distinctions that can be made. The "rules" that are often taught may apply to one "form" but not another. What is considered "basic" may not even apply in every instance, and there is the possibility that an "excellent" short poem which has few, or possibly none, of the defined "qualifications" for haiku might find its way into a haiku journal. (And that context might bring out otherwise unseen qualities).

It is why, forgive me for saying what I've said elsewhere, I don't think of myself as someone who writes haiku, though for the sake of discussion it is often convenient to do so. I think of myself as someone who writes short poems which have unquestionably been influenced by Japanese poetics, but also by other things-- aphorism, for example, itself something difficult to define and pin down and which has numerous forms.

For me, "excellence" resides in something on the page or spoken which is prior to haiku. I think there is something in us which initially responded-- deeply-- to haiku before we knew what it was. (It may have been, phenomenologically speaking, a bodily, or pre-cognitive response).

It was only later that we tried to grasp what qualifies a short poem as haiku. (And perhaps how to replicate the initial encounter). Doing so led different people in different directions, for good or ill, fluid or fixed.

I like the idea that writers of ELH (for the sake of conversation I'll call myself one) can "metabolize" qualities associated with Japanese poetics along with those of Western poetry. (This would include prosody, the sounds and rhythms inherent in the English language).

If this happens, there may be a new possibility in one's poetry whereby the poet  "rediscovers" those qualities, as needed, in the process of writing itself.

That is to say, he/she doesn't "apply" that quality, but encounters it as it makes itself known as a particular and necessary instance of the poem. The quality is individualized. This is perhaps when we can say that a poem is both personal and universal.

So qualities like "yugen," or "scent" to give two examples, are not fixed or even definable, but particular to the writer and ever-different (and yet ever-the-same) things. And ever-new and always available for discovery, which may speak to the "individuality" of the poem and poet, which to me is a hallmark of excellence. A rare thing, because it seems to involve letting go of what you have learned as something you need to apply, and trusting not that you have something which you can use, but that you are something-- something discoverable by way of art.

Teachers of poetry, if they are honest, will say (as was said to me) they can't  teach anyone how to write a poem. They can tell you what not to do, but after that, you're on your own.

Same for haiku, no doubt. But it often seems to me that a lot of writers hope that by applying certain principles ("rules" or techniques if you will) to haiku, they can come up with something "good" or publishable. And in truth, that does happen, though such work can seem generic, formulaic. But for me excellence can only happen when something much deeper occurs, something mysterious and immersive, when those principles are met as if for the first time, by a writer encountering him/herself along the way.

I suppose you could say that is my ambition.
Field Notes / Re: Field Notes 5: Criticism
February 06, 2014, 07:02:22 PM
Michael Dylan Welch has long favored the idea that ELH should take steps to break out of the "haiku ghetto" and position itself, by various means, in the larger poetry community. In his contribution for FN5 above, he recalls Dana Gioia encouraging the "haiku community" to "champion its best haiku poets and its best haiku books to non-haiku poets", and to "find and promote . . . excellent haiku poets".  He suggests writing "in-depth articles for leading non-haiku poetry journals".

I believe Michael is to be applauded for his efforts in this direction.

There is probably no consensus about what "excellence" in haiku may be (just as there is little consensus about about what haiku itself is), nor much about who are the "best" haiku writers and which the best books. So it's unclear, at least to me, just what or whom to promote or how to go about it.

There are no doubt many readers (and writers) of poetry who would be interested and likely surprised to learn what has been happening in ELH since the 50's. An in-depth article on the subject might find its way into one or another poetry journal. Poetry magazine would be a logical place to try. The Poetry Foundation, which publishes it, has a mission to promote poetry in general and to make it accessible to a wide audience.

There may be reasons, however, they would be reluctant to publish such an article.
More about that soon.

With the appearance of Haiku in English last year, at least one case has been made for excellence in haiku. It is probably the best case that has been made up to now. As far as I know it has yet to be reviewed by any major poetry journal, despite having been published by Norton, who also published earlier anthologies edited by Cor van den Heuvel.

Its primary aim, of course, is to demonstrate that "excellence" in haiku is not a static or single thing. Various writers, as the book makes clear, have done different things with haiku, but the anthology's aim is not to demonstrate the excellence of writers themselves. It does not attempt to make a case for individual poets as "best" or even "excellent".

And in truth, about how many haiku poets would that be possible? Put it this way:
how many haiku poets are readily identifiable by their work? Only a few, I would say.

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.

Haiku is often regarded as a purity which the writer attains by draining himself or herself of individuality or personality. The individual is equated with ego; writing as an individual, or with individuality and uniqueness is merely an act of self-expression-- of pointing primarily to oneself.

That's not what I'm talking about. Nor am I talking about promoting more subjectivity. (Or less for that matter). Nor about psychological or confessional haiku, unless that is what truly matters to the writer, if elements of haiku are a means of bringing such explorations to life.

What I'm talking about is the individual as a unique expression of life-- and the writer as one means, by way of language, by which life gets to reveal itself. What I feel needs to be promoted is individual expression-- how you and I come to terms with the challenge and potential of haiku which, if we are serious, we have internalized (and perhaps metabolized) as an inescapable dimension of our lives. 

Here's the thing: I don't think poets and readers of poetry outside the "haiku community" want to know more about haiku, but rather about writers whose language has been lit up by contact with it. The virtues of haiku itself are easy to discover-- recent anthologies make a good case.  Non-haiku poets don't need, as some seem to think they do, to be educated about haiku but to be exposed to writers who have used it as a means to produce distinctive and significant work, writing which comes through a poet's struggles with with word, world, and self.

I believe criticism can play a vital role in this. There have been very few in-depth critiques of individual writers. Such explorations, done well, can bring subtle or difficult elements of a poet's work into the light, and serve to open doors to others. A good critic finds a third dimension where others could only find two. It is perhaps a somewhat ideal view, but I believe a symbiosis can take place between writer and critic, each bringing out the best in the other.

I would cite Allan Burns as someone who, by way of Montage, but more so Where the River Goes, has done good critical work, providing insightful portraits of various writers and giving some personal context for their work. Jack Galmitz, in his book Views, offers an often generous and in-depth look at the achievements of poets such as Mountain and Martone. His review of Mark Harris' Burl is sensitive and insightful. And Richard Gilbert has championed numerous (and in many cases previously unseen) possibilities inherent in haiku in such a way that, as I see it, the individual expression I am speaking of is given a broad range of "tools" to work with.

Of course none of that is possible without the poems themselves, without poets' willingness to explore. And yet sometimes it may be that the critic sees something the writer did not, or only intuited. Even good writers know only the half of themselves. Great writers perhaps somewhat more, but I'm not sure such a creature exists yet among ELH poets.

Nor do I think one will emerge by favoring excellence in haiku over excellence in individual writers.
Field Notes / Re: Field Notes 5: Criticism
January 28, 2014, 07:55:25 PM
Mary, many thanks for this.

How much, if anything, do you think applies to haiku criticism?
Jean, are you willing to cite a few haiku which delighted or which angered you?
Field Notes / Field Notes 3: Life-Changing Haiku
September 14, 2013, 01:20:43 PM
For this third edition of Field Notes: Explorations in Haiku, we asked members of a panel of writers to consider which haiku, or which poets, strongly influenced them in some way. I think you will find it interesting, and perhaps touching, to learn the results of this inquiry, and I hope you will continue the exploration by adding a few of your own life-changing haiku.

Was there a poem which startled you, or perhaps nudged you, in the direction of writing? Was there a poet whose work overturned all your previous expectations or beliefs about haiku, and changed your approach to writing and reading?

Well, I think I was saying much the same thing-- that a poem can be easily grasped and still work.

The kind of poetry I'm talking about is a rare thing, but I am interested in rare things. Maybe a sense of this, which brings in the feeling of longing, can be heard in something Christian Wiman says in a wonderful book My Bright Abyss:

"I have wanted some image to open for me, to both solidify my wavering faith and ramify beyond it, to say more than I can say".

He's writing within the context of art and faith, but I think you can see why I offer it here.

And yes, I agree too that a lot of stuff is out there about which even I, with my aversion to words like "getting" and "grasping", am likely to say "I don't get it". And that probably means as much as anything that it doesn't have that wonderful quality of feeling right without one's being able to say why.

But who knows what experiments-- most of which are likely to fail-- may lead to?

Those poems, the ones I praise and aspire to, require a different kind of attention than do those I'm calling "all too clear". No doubt in the writing and the reading both.

But I'm not asking nor do I need anyone to agree with me. Well, maybe 2 or 3 people.
I strongly suspect that Don and others will agree with what I am about to say, though it may appear to be in opposition. My sense is that the "prize" in haiku (and poetry) is something which in fact cannot be grasped-- only intuited. It is, to play on that word a little, what is priceless about it.

So, coming down this discussion a ways (as on a river, sometimes muddy, sometimes choppy, sometimes broad and seemingly still) I would say that a haiku which is "all too clear" is one that it does not go beyond what can be grasped by the mind, especially the mind (call it the left brain if you will) which wants to "get it".

Even so, there are haiku which are limited in this way which nonetheless have great charm. Kerouac's

Missing a kick/ at the icebox door/ it closed anyway

Though some will say, well it's isn't a haiku. I won't go there.

Maybe Peggy Willis Lyle's poem:

reaching for green pears/ the pull/ of an old scar

could be cited as one which goes beyond graspability. Yes, there are elements that
one "gets"-- but there is something more too. Of course, how it was written is important--
the attention to sound and rhythm. For one thing, how the double stresses of "green pears" match the double stresses of "old scar".


I write about haiku and poetry because I want to see more. It's like talking about a dream, and inviting others to say what they see too-- it brings it out in interesting and sometimes unsettling (because revealing) ways. It can also bring people together.

It doesn't have to be an academic exercise. It can come from the wilderness and joy
of looking closely at something. Wilderness because at heart one is looking for what is fresh and enlivening. For something unseen-- and perhaps unseeable. Clarity is not for the eyes only.

I've heard people say they don't want to talk about haiku, or to be "intellectual" about it. That's fine. But me, I want to
see if I am writing from some unconscious notions which reading poetry, which hearing about and reading Oppen, for example, may reveal. I want to know what the Objectivists meant when they said "the poem is an object"-- do I or others write, perhaps unknowingly, from that stance, and is it limiting? Does it reflect how I see the world?

Point I wish to make is, reading poetry and what poets have to say about it helps me question what I do, to open it up.

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