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become (haiku & transformation)

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

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Peter Yovu

a piece of
an old boat--a sense of

I'd say that this poem reflects a psychological transformation which manifests inwardly, as some kind of sensory change. It does not reflect physical change. I can't know in what way the author associates a piece of a boat with levitation, I only know that I was not aware that I did, or could, until I experienced it. That in itself is a transformation-- realization (discovery) is transformation. The form I believed I had has crossed over to a new form.

From this new place I see differently: I am a body of impossibly clear water reflecting only blue, and yet above me, the sky is the hull of an ancient boat, with one piece missing. Am I that piece?


Quote from: John McManus on July 27, 2011, 08:03:30 PM
Mark, I understand what you're saying, but I was talking more about the identities we create for ourselves and how they help us define our purpose and place. 

We do create 'identities' for ourselves, and adopt roles, neither of which reflect what or who we really experience as all of ourselves.

The terminology doesn't matter: we accept roles and adopt them and attribute them to others...mother, horse-rider, home-owner, cat-lover, gardener, student, Prime Minister (or "Mr President"), art lover, anarchist, Christian, Buddhist, housekeeper, poet, humanitarian, devil's advocate, etc etc

There are also common metaphors we use for ourselves or others: doormat, pig, sow, drongo, workhorse, fox, couch potato, sloth, tiger, chook, hen, rooster, chick, sheep, goats, iron man, petrol head, wolf, dog, bitch, beast, loan shark, bird brain... yes, 'swan' and 'ugly duckling', too  . . . it could go on & on, and most of the metaphorical names we could list are probably culturally specific.

No-one bats an eyelid if someone says, "She became his doormat" or "For all of the holidays, I was just a couch potato", or even thinks of literal or surrealistic transformation because the metaphors are understood (or cliched, if seen in literature) Still, even these common and cliched metaphors condense meaning.

New metaphors... such as " I become a motorbike"...we have to work out for ourselves in context.

- Lorin


I did manage for a while to move away from labels but the 'world' insists on them. ;-)

Oddly enough when I've occasionally held great 'power' in jobs it was when I least felt or wanted 'power' and merely used it as a conduit to enable others to be able to 'get on with their lives'.

When I used to meditate certainly my ego was under control, and it was a time I least needed to be a label.

strawberry preserve
for now this carbon unit
is just light

Not haiku, but something I'll play with. :-)

Scott Metz

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


Mark Harris

all this

out of




to see

        --john martone, scrittura povera

John McManus

behind the death mask,
this is God, too

Paul Pfleuger,Jr. Roadrunner, August 2008 Issue VIII:3

Use masks when you go
Down to the barrio place
And just cover your face

G. David Schwartz. Roadrunner, August 2008 Issue VIII:3

Jack Galmitz

from behind each mask,
the creator peeks out


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?

Jack Galmitz

Again, a wonderful assemblage of thoughts and examples of transformation in literature, Scott.
I wrote this one and sent it into a Japanese haiku contest (I forget which one; not important); I don't know if they dared touch it for fear of appearing offensive.

Japan's singing robot-
Americans keep writing
haiku of nature

a robot officiates
a marriage ceremony

Peter Yovu

I'm going to quote from a book I've mentioned before-- Iain McGilchrist's The Master and His Emissary. He's writing about "imitation" as "an imaginative inhabiting of the other". He speaks of the earliest humans as having "a capacity for simile-- they could be "like" an animal-- but since (they did not have a capacity for metaphor)-- they could not 'become an animal'". (This is something, however, that we are capable of, as explained below).
He quotes Thomas Mann, who wrote that Napoleon "confounded himself mythically with Alexander. . .and later when. . . he declared, 'I am Charlemagne'. Be it noted he did not say 'My position is like. . . or I am as. . . Charlemagne' but simply 'I am he'. This is the mythical formula".

And he (McGilchrist) quotes "Bruno Snell, also speaking of the ancient world: 'The warrior and the lion are activated by one and the same force. . . a man who walks 'like a lion' betrays an actual kinship with the beast'. Homeric metaphors are 'not only symbols but the particular embodiments of universal vital forces'. They assign 'a role very similar to that of the beasts also to the natural elements. We have already met with the storm, the wave, the rock. . . above all they [metaphors/symbols] are regarded as the conductors of fundamental forces such as are alive also in man'".

McGilchrist goes on: basing the following thought on trackers' ability to "get inside" the animal they are tracking: " Perhaps, when we empathize, we actually become the object of our empathy, and share its life.

". . .in Japanese thought, 'human beings and every natural thing are one body in total' and there is a 'feeling of love for natural things just as if the natural things were the people themselves'.

"We already know from the discovery of mirror neurones that when we imitate something that we can see, it is as if we are experiencing it. . . . Mental representation, in the absence of direct visual or other stimulus-- in other words imagining-- brings into play some of the same neurones that are involved in direct perception. It is clear from this, even when we so much as imagine doing something, never mind actually imitate it, it is, at some level which is far from negligible, as if we are actually doing it ourselves. Imagining something, watching someone else do something, and doing it ourselves share important neural foundations.

"Imagination, then, is not a neutral projection of images on a screen. We need to be careful of our imagination, since what we imagine is in a sense what we are and who we become".

There is much here I am tempted to italicize. For now, I'll let it stand alone, but I hope it leads to some consideration that this business of "becoming" and "transformation" is more than a literary conceit, and that imagination is more real, and connected to the "real" world than we sometimes believe.

Mark Harris

Inventions like tool use; art, math and even aspects of language may have been invented
"accidentally" in one place and then spread very quickly given the human brain's amazing
capacity for imitation learning and mind reading using mirror neurons. Perhaps any major
"innovation" happens because of a fortuitous coincidence of environmental circumstances —
usually at a single place and time. But given our species' remarkable propensity for miming,
such an invention would tend to spread very quickly through the population — once it emerged.
Mirror neurons obviously cannot be the only answer to all these riddles of evolution. After
all rhesus monkeys and apes have them, yet they lack the cultural sophistication of humans
(although it has recently been shown that chimps at least do have the rudiments of culture, even
in the wild). I would argue, though, that mirror neurons are necessary but not sufficient: their
emergence and further development in hominids was a decisive step. The reason is that once
you have a certain minimum amount of "imitation learning" and "culture" in place, this culture
can, in turn, exert the selection pressure for developing those additional mental traits that make
us human. And once this starts happening you have set in motion the autocatalytic process that
culminated in modern human consciousness. --V.S. Ramachandran, Mirror neurons and imitation
learning as the driving force behind "the great leap forward" in human evolution

Mark Harris

Phantom limbs are a common experience for amputees, but we noticed something unusual in Humphrey. Imagine his amazement when he merely watches me stroke and tap a student volunteer's arm--and actually feels these tactile sensations in his phantom. When he watches the student fondle an ice cube, he feels the cold in his phantom fingers. When he watches her massage her own hand, he feels a "phantom massage" that reveals the painful cramp in his phantom hand! Where do his body, his phantom body, and a stranger's body meld in his mind? What or where is his real sense of self?
-- V.S. Ramachandran, The Tell-Tale Brain

this business of "becoming" and "transformation" is more than a literary conceit, and that imagination is more real, and connected to the "real" world than we sometimes believe. --Peter

offering these because things are slow around here the past few days, and my thoughts and Peter's have been wandering along similar lines. We can return to poems now, if you like.

Peter Yovu

So, can we say that there is some sort of "basis" for experiences of "becoming" and transformation? (Such things as "bases" will, I believe, always provide a standpoint and therefore, a partial perspective, and perhaps should not be regarded as solid, but as starting points for exploration).

Does it help an exploration of this theme in haiku? Does it open anything up? I wonder what you (you and I who are looking at this) have to say, especially from your own experience.

It's no secret that I believe that what appears to be the prevalent notion of haiku is extremely limited. I'm too lazy just now to characterize what I mean by "prevalent notion", but I suppose it's the kind of poem that appears regularly in The Red Moon Anthology and some journals. I don't think that Mikajo Yagi's

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

would make the cut, and yet for me, it is truer, more genuine and has more depth, more interiority and planes than many that do.

I don't know if it's possible to write like this without some trust in inner experience, (without some trust in the body), or if you wish, in one's empathic response to things like falling leaves. An average haiku poet will say something like

falling leaves/ I too am/ heading for the grave

Many would say that transitoriness is at the heart of haiku, and this is a profound thing. But I think we might include transformation as equally important, and probably just another way of saying the same thing. But if we look at it that way (I feel) something opens up, an acceptance and even excitement in the realization that inner, "psychological", mythical experience, etc., is a natural outflow from the heart of haiku.

For some, I may be stating (and repeating) the obvious-- but I do wonder how this plays out in your experience, as a reader, and as a writer. A related question is, what is it about haiku that makes it so well suited to exploring transformation?

Peter Yovu

Mark, I entered my last post without knowledge of yours. I agree that talking about actual poems is more interesting, and no doubt people glaze over somewhat with discourse, but I am convinced it adds something to looking at poems such as Tohta's "motorcycle".

What all this makes me think is something like "art needs no validation (by such things as brain research). Or, true art avoids validation".

I do think there has been a huge push to validate haiku. And though it is maybe a matter for another thread, I have come to see haiku as an outlaw art, which of course is an oxymoron.

But yes, please, let's bring on some poems. (I did present Scott's

a piece of
an old boat-- a sense of

as an example of transformative imagination . . .).

Jack Galmitz

If we believe in the unconscious and as such in its timelessness, then we have the statis brought about by the co-existence of times, which is more a tension and transformation that goes back and forth and is painful to us to experience, as it is never resolved:

Carrying a whale
back to the ocean-
My father


Or, on the other hand, we have transformation that is sudden and bodily:

Down a wooded lane,
a woman walks alone-
I see a fire


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