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become (haiku & transformation)

Started by Scott Metz, July 23, 2011, 04:06:16 AM

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in a tent in the rain i become a climate

Such poems are memorable for the change they make in our awareness.- Lorin

I agree that all memorable haiku poems alter our perception of reality and further our awareness of the natural world. In Jims poem I am made aware that under certain conditions or circumstances (Lorin's "groundwork") I can become a climate because--in reality--I am the climate. "How to become what you already are" is the end result of an altered awareness precipitated by a memorable haiku. A memorable haiku is transformational and consciousness raising and (for me) Jim's ku certainly accomplishes both



It works because it's true.

It works because it is real.

It works because it is external to the mind of the poet so is something the reader may (if we have had the "right" experience) share and recognise.


(once a keen camper but now, alas, someone who likes a comfortable mattress and two pillows, not to mention a hot-water shower or bath)

Don Baird

in a tent in the rain i become a climate

I enjoy the changes of focus very much: tent to rain to I.  The repetitive word "in" is massively important in making this poem work, as well.  For me, I wonder if:

in the rain in a tent I become a climate might not have worked better ... but, then again, Jim doesn't write his poems without a great deal of thought; that is clear.  So, back to the order and why it is so ...


I write haiku because they're there to be written ...

storm drain
the vertical axis
of winter

John McManus

I'm really not sure where to begin. There are so many excellent points to discuss!

On Tohta'a poem. I did not think of transformers at all, although I concede there might be a bit of that in there. I thought given the cultural connotations of motorbikes it is a statement of rebellion.
'I become a motorbike' is not only rebellious to our conventions of what is possible, but it might also offer some context to that heated argument that gets mentioned on the opening line.

Jim's poem, like most of his poems is wonderful and offers a multitude of readings. Although, I honestly don't feel it as implausible as Tohta's.

I think when we use the word become or turn into or change. It is a way for us to make something implausible plausible. We know that things turn into other things. Children turn into adults, seeds turn into plants, day turns into night. These are all concepts we are familiar with and so they make sense to us. But something like

"I got ready for work when day was night."

Makes no real sense, we think of day and night as being seperate and opposite to one another. But how many of you have got up for work ridiculously early, looked up at that dark sky and still felt like it was the middle of the night?       

I suppose what I am getting at, is that alot of the haiku quoted in the thread, do offer something which seems implausible, but presented in such a way that they do in fact seem quite plausible, due in large part to our understanding of gradual change.




Examining the word "become" in Jim's ku is intriguing because it asks us to either take a journey or to be there all at once (as posited in Peter's suggestion "I am a climate").  Seems to me much of the poetry is in the voyage (I liked the sensation of undergoing the change in Jim's and others*).

*"become" seems to work well in some of the other examples too:

Tohta's "become a motorcycle" vs. I am a motorcycle
Aoyagi's "I failed to become a swan" vs. I am not a swan
Swede's "before it becomes a water lily" vs. it is a water lily

Scott Metz

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


Jack Galmitz

A fine assemblage of haiku of metamorphosis, Scott, and a great deal of work.
I have to ask, though, how did we step backwards to an aesthetical requirement that poetry of whatever kind had to satisfy the requirements of someone's view of a "reality"?
I briefly brought this up in a thread in mentoring on the gay day parade and showed how all the readings offered by our members were biased, limited by their prejudices, and were, in fact, just the antithesis of what poet had in mind.  Of course, no one picked it up...too dirty?
I mean I really am amazed that we are once again, even if we allow for transformation, becoming, however it is expressed, insisting on a groundwork in the "real."
I feel like I am kicking a dead horse because I must have mentioned Ferdinand de Saussure's "Course in General Linguistics" as being the bedrock of modernist thought on language and the arbitrariness and unmotivated nature of the sign=no word bears relationship to the world but to a system, self-contained, of signifiers and signifieds at least a dozen times.  There is no one to one correspondence of language to world (Wittgenstein, Derrida, Barthes, et al) and so expressing a "truth" through the fantastical or metaphoric in poetry is in its very nature. How about Kafka"s The Trial, since Scott mentioned Kafka; is that a plausible story situation?  Yet, isn't it "true"?

Jack Galmitz

Briefly, our Western tradition is fraught with metamorphosis and books that utilize it as their center piece.  Consider Odysseus and his relationship with Circe, who turns half of his men into swine.  And, throughout this epic the very gods themselves are literary deus ex machina brought into the "real" to resolve problems.
Then, Ovid's Metamorphoses, which tells the stories of mythological figures who have undergone metamorphosis.
Or the Golden Ass of Apuleius, an allegory of a man possessed and transformed into a donkey and his journey and learning towards release and salvation.
Not to mention the transfiguration of Christ in the New Testament.

Jack Galmitz

So, if we were to use in our haiku something akin to  the Japanese saijiki, wouldn't we have to include such seminal works mentioned in my last post, as well as all the best examples of becoming something else, transformation, mutation, metamorphosis, in English language literature.  Certainly, we wouldn't create something like a saijiki in our culture based on Japan's ancient compilations of its ancient works of waka, rengai, haiku. It would be cumbersome, to say  the least, and would require such a depth of historical/philosophical/linguistic knowledge as to be beyond most practitioners.  That's why the idea of seasonal reference is obsolete in our art, as it neither is saijiki based nor English literary history based. 
Certainly, though, we should be able to take away from our long literary tradition the poetic subject of metamorphosis or "to become," if the latter is not too offensive to anyone.

Peter Yovu

Jack, I'm a bit confused, maybe  because I don't have your depth of understanding of linguistics. Is there any way you can make your concerns a bit more. . . concrete. I understand your question:

"I have to ask, though, how did we step backwards to an aesthetical requirement that poetry of whatever kind had to satisfy the requirements of someone's view of a "reality"?

I'm not sure that anyone has stepped back, or that anyone is setting up requirements for a view of reality-- but is that your concern? Is the concern around the nature of "plausibility", especially as it may relate to "transformation"?

As I have told you, I appreciate your contributions here, as on the old blog, but I think you sometimes present too much-- I don't know where to start, and I want to. 

Jack Galmitz

Well, Peter, I'll do my best to express my concern here.
The question for me is one of attribution and plausibility and what requirements, if any, exist before a line of poetry can be said/read to mean (in the widest sense).
No reason to mention anyone by name, but quite a few comments on this thread suggested that what made Jim's poem "acceptable," and what distinguished it from other examples of haiku expressing becoming something else, which were deemed less than "acceptable," was its relationship to what was presumed by these readers to be "real," and by real they meant something akin to measurable, quantifiable, verifiable in the "real."
Certainly, in any attribution to what I consider outside of the country of language (existants, not existants), but which I take it is being regarded by some as the capital of language (that words don't just refer to but express the unmediated world), there must, at least by some minimal logic in language/consciousness, be some qualities that allow for the attribution.
This, however, still does not, at least for me, serve as a register of the "value" of the haiku and its attributions; for me, this is pure reification, objectification and commodification of the "real." It is presumptuous in the sense of proper as proprietary (very captilistic here).
So, we have a litany of haiku and texts from the Western tradition that used, in their different ways, metamophosis as central and therefore used attribution to the so-called implausible as a means to express "truth" without a 19th Century view of objective reality.

Peter Yovu

Scott, what a marvelous (literally) mini-anthology you've given here. Very enlivening. It would be wonderful to expand upon, add some commentary and/or correlates from other sources and create a little book called Haiku of Transformation or something.

As with Jack's posts, there's just about too much to handle here. I'll try to come back with some thoughts.
But for now I'll just say this: it may be possible that the soul, or psyche, carries the imprints of the evolution from egg to infant, all the ontogenetic changes. . .fish, reptile, mammal. . .

Peter Yovu

Okay, Jack, that's great. Let me think about it.

Jack Galmitz

I'm glad I've made myself clear, Peter.
As you're considering a response, I'd also ask you to consider say surrealism in poetry (where it began), then to paintings and movies, and why the seemingly impossible, improbable, were expressed in surrealism as the more nearer to the "truth" of things and the mind.  Of course, the movement relied on an "unconscious," which modern psychiatry, not psychoanalysis, finds dubious (but the two disciplines never were very comfortable together) for its validation.  Yet unconscious or not, surely we know the mind, its experience of the world, is not on a rational track only, but multilevels are operating all the time in experience.
So, at least for me, I can see no greater validity in Jim's poem than in any of the many examples of poems provided by Scott.  To the contrary, some of the poems are stronger to me.

Jack Galmitz

And, if I may, without being tiresome, just give an example.
How can Pablo Neruda say, as he does in "Carnal Apple..." :

Love is a war of lightning.

A predicative nominative usually "clarifies" the subject; okay, so love is a war, we can easily go that far although Neruda is using paradox to an extent, but we understand that love can be bitterly won, but what about a war "of lightning"?  Adjectival phrase modifying the type of war.  Far cry from realism, far cry from verifiable notions of the "real," yet surely very very very real, isn't it?

I mean attributions of the outlandish, identification with what lies "without" consciousness (as if anything resided outside of consciousness) is, in my mind, central to poetics.
So, Kohta's poem is intriguing, original, right on point!

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