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become (haiku & transformation)

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

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Scott Metz

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?

Jack Galmitz

Yutei's flock of cranes
are life-size and move so much
I become a crane

Jack Galmitz


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

- Kaneko Tohta

Do you remember those toys, originated in Japan, called Transformers? My son had them. With this ku, I can't get beyond those toys. (My failing, most likely) The 'transformation' seems somehow artificial.

But with Jim's

in a tent in the rain i become a climate

I get a sense of recognition, & one which I wouldn't have had I not read this ku. The sense of 'how true!', though I'd not thought of it before. To me, that's important.

Is it really "impossibly true"? Perhaps, but only until one has read this ku. In a small tent, one-man or two-man, the rain outside only emphasizes the difference between outside & inside: inside is going to be warm and humid from one's breath and body heat. How can one separate oneself from the climate inside the tent, in reality, since inside the sealed  'skin' of the tent one is separate from the conditions outside and this micro-climate is completely made by one's own body in interaction with what air there is inside? "i become a climate" is true, unless one insists on considering 'I' as something not-body, separate from the physical, separate from one's breath and sweat and body heat.

I like your analogy of the Babushka dolls, Scott, but this ku goes inward only to gain an expansion, as you say, at the point of the "imaginative surprise" of a new awareness. From here, from the awareness that the micro-climate in the small tent is inseparable from "I", we might gain a glimpse into more that we are always inseparable from. The ku is not closed. (Though the tent is  8) ) The transformation is the transformation of awareness and it isn't a delusion.

But I can't honestly say that about the 'become a motorbike' haiku, which to me is more fanciful than truly imaginative. I just can't see that someone becomes a motorbike, though I can understand that someone can become like a motorbike in some ways (eg fuming, noisy etc).

Those Transformer toys were fun, though, and they led (in my son's case) to some rather stunning ideas about what humans might become in the future, what with the "Technological Singularity" looming.

- Lorin

Jack Galmitz

Isn't Tohta's "become a motorcycle" a good example of metaphor?
It seems to me that it is and works well.
In NYC, and usually very late at night when people are sleeping and there is no traffic, suddenly the incredibly roaring noise of a young man on a motorcycle passes temporarily waking everyone.  It is an expression of "I exist regardless of being unrecognized."
Seems to me that used as a metaphor, "become a motorcycle" is rather original.


One of my recent mentored poems on THF:

pulling the drapes
the window becomes  

expresses a similar theme: we become that which our soul preceives. For me, it's a spiritual revelation. After reading this passage by Avatar Meher Baba:

The Cosmos is Within You
Meher Baba

It does not require a large eye to see a large mountain. Though the eye is small, the soul which sees through it is greater and vaster than all the things which it perceives. In fact, it is so great that it includes all objects, however large or numerous, within itself. For it is not so much that you are within the cosmos as that the cosmos is within you.

...I realize that what I see outwardly is simply a reflection of my inner soul.



Transformation versus transmutation... stoned if I know

the centricity of the pronoun, "i" or "I" and the observer and the act of "become" seems to depend on the point of view?

"become a climate"
"become a motorcycle"
"become a crane"

all these "transmutation"... but "become like a ..." are transformations 

So...  ???

In Jim's poem, the "Jim climate" within the tent is possible because the definition of "climate" can be applied to the physical person of Jim.  The "motorcycle" and "crane" perhaps too much a stretch and we may translate within the construction of our experiences the "like" if a transformation.  For the transmutation... well, you'll need a phylosopher's stone (where's Harry when you need him?).  The devil as always in the detail.

ciao... chibi

Jack Galmitz

I think you are relying on attribution as related to a "real" that is just not outside of language.  We live in language, cannot remove ourselves from it, and attribution to what is mediated usually does require conventionally some language similarity, as you point out, but it does not stop there: I think we disagree on what is too distant to allow positing.
Let me tell you that in the Metro Museum of Art I stood before the three panel painting of Yutei's Flock of Cranes and had the deepest religious experience of my life.  Because of how had the cranes each moving differently, I suddenly found myself in the midst of the flock and I was actually there; Yutei had created the conditions whereby a human could realize they were a member of a greater community than the human one. So, too far of a stretch? Not for me.  Just not adequate to the religious vision and tactile experience I had, which has never been repeated by any attempt at reaching for such a state of being.

Peter Yovu

Please see following post.

Peter Yovu

For reasons that partially elude me, I struggle with the word "become". I find it, in general, a rather heavy-handed word, or perhaps I should say heavy-minded. It seems to take over any poem, especially any short poem, it occurs in. I will say that in Jim's poem, the speed and galloping rhythm help to de-emphasize it. It may also help that "climate", which we can understand  as both an inner and outer thing, is easy to intuit, as transformation. I think Lorin is saying something similar.  

I'm missing something though-- I'm looking for something, I will call it an image for now, which embodies the sense of now I experience myself as a climate or, now I am a climate. I miss the sense of what it may be like to feel in and as that state. I "become" stays in suspension in the head as an idea for me-- the climate of the mind-- a charming idea, but I want my bones to partake as well.

What an image can do, as I understand it, is present an intelligence which has its own life, which we may intuit, but never quite grasp all of. The delight of images is that while we may be the ones who "come up with" or "create" them in some sense, we don't exactly or fully know what we are coming up with-- in a way, you could say we don't quite know what will become of us in the encounter. About images one could say what Gibran said about children. They "are not your(s). . . . They are the (manifestations) of Life's longing for itself".

Maybe "i become a climate" (and, "in the rain i become") connects to this, or at least in Jim's poem it does this, and maybe I am responding to what I regard as the more facile use of the word I have come across elsewhere. My inclination, however, is to regard, even in Jim's poem, the word "become" as one of those which kind of hang out on the branches of a fruit tree, tempting, graspable, and temporarily satisfying,  but where what is needed is to journey into the roots.

Jack Galmitz

I tend to agree with what Peter is saying.  I rarely, if ever, use the word "become," but choose an image that expresses it.  I have been playing with the haiku I posted here and generally ruled out "become." I just posted it that way to see how it worked.
Usually, I would have written something to this affect.

Yutei's flock of cranes
are life-size and move so much
I ruffle my wings

Scott Metz

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

Jack Galmitz

Don't mean to flip-flop, but Scott's most recent posting does legitimize, if that's the right word, the use of "become" in haiku of transformation.
I do have to add something that I felt 7 years ago; and, that was that Fay Aoyagi was parodying one of my earlier haiku in her "cold rain" haiku..
Mine from 2002:

Cold rain-
in the paper bag crabs
begin to clamber
(From the Effects of Light, AHA 2002).

If I recall, Robert Speiss at the time sort of chided the parody and said something to the effect of "come on now, let's not be childish."

Then again it could be my imagination.

Mark Harris

we will have to ask her if her application was accepted. What ensued after can remain her secret.
I like both of your crab poems, parody or no.

As has been pointed out, Kacian's poem has multi-stops that inspire a variety of readings and evoke various responses. One, for me, is a shift that replaces the image of the author-in-a-tent-in-the-rain with the image of a climate that i see as an oblong roughly human-sized pinkish zone reduced to warm mist and atoms. A simple way of communicating the author's oneness with nature, and funny--the communion didn't happen on a mountaintop, but in a tent. Don't know if the rest of you read that as humorous, but in the context of that reading, the use of the word become becomes more fitting. Just my take.


in a tent in the rain i become a climate

For me, "become" is working very well here. Something I find both interesting and admirable is the way time is encapsulated here. Contrasting with the speed of reading the ku is the time it takes for a process to happen (the process of 'becoming something' ) One recognises (or I do...interpretation is ultimately personal and according to experience) that this kind of 'becoming' is common in the world...the same basic process as in butterfly or cicada metamorphosis. A natural process that happens over a certain amount of time.

No-one waves a magic wand and suddenly a caterpillar is a butterfly. Jim doesn't zip up the tent and immediately 'become a climate'. That might be 'impossibly true' or simply untrue.

In a way, the haiku itself, the words as they are set out on the page/screen, is like the sealed tent, which in turn is like a biological test tube or the alembic or retort of the alchemists of old. Within this sealed environment, a natural process happens and the process takes as long as it takes under the conditions needed for it to take place, whether that is a zillionth of a second (in some sub-atomic processes or the chemical/ electrical changes in our brain synapses) or a month or so (in the case of caterpillar to butterfly) or an hour or so (in the case of someone in a sealed tent in the rain)

The thing is, this haiku is entirely plausible because the 'ground work' ("in a tent in the rain") is done before the seemingly implausible "i become a climate". Yes, there is a shift (and maybe this is what Scott means by 'semantic shift of register' ? ) . . . it's something like the shift of view that happens if you look at a drop of blood then put it under a very powerful microscope and look again. What's transformed? One's awareness.

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

- Lorin


Cold rain-
in the paper bag crabs
begin to clamber
- Jack Galmitz (From the Effects of Light, AHA 2002).

cold rain—
my application
to become a crab

- Fay Aoyagi

It well could be that Fay's ku was inspired by yours, Jack, though to me it doesn't seem to be a parody but rather a humorous extension on a subjective level. . . "in this cold rain I'd rather be a crab in that paper bag than standing here getting soaked to the bone", sort of response, made 'poetic' by importing the idea of formal 'application' (such as an application to the relevant authorities to become a citizen of a new country) and applying it to the passing whim of wanting to be a crab.

Playful. . . the use of extended hyperbole? And like so many of Fay's haiku I've read, very 'Fay-centred'.

This is a difference I've been noticing between contemporary Japanese haiku and many current EL haiku.

Whilst the "I" in Jim's "in a tent in the rain" ku both 'becomes a climate' and disperses within that climate, the "I" in both haiku by Fay Aoyagi quoted here by Scott, like the "I" in the Kaneko Tohta haiku, is rock solid and placed dead centre in the poem.

Is this an aspect of Post-Modern poetics? I'm reminded of that quip of TS Eliot's (one who spoke for the Modernist poetics that he helped form)

" Poetry . . . is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things."

- 'Tradition and the Individual Talent', 1922

- Lorin

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