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haiku & the unknown

Started by Scott Metz, July 28, 2011, 08:13:41 PM

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Scott Metz

The sweet smell
from an unknown tree
repulses the metropolis

—Kai Falkman

(THF Per Diem ku for 7.28.11)

A poem i've long liked, admired and found inspiration from. really memorable.

There are a number of things going on in this ku: (collective) personification/anthropomorphism, "pointing to the missing reason", "the impossibly true"; the ku acts as a possible meditation on landscape/nature, city v. rural, the wild v. the planned, the modern world, the environment and possibly our environmental dilemma (pollution/global warming), how one conducts and lives one's life. How has this sweeping feeling—this rejection—been made, not for an individual, but for an entire city/metropolis? i'm also left thinking about "complicity"—that while one lives in a place, and has individual ideas and ideals and opinions, and may disagree with the majority, there is a kind of complicity in their (a city's, a school's, a nation's) actions. There's also something, i must say, fictional about the use/choice of the word "metropolis" for me (it conjures the worlds of Superman and Batman, respectively; not a negative thing, quite interesting in fact).  

This ku though also made me ponder "the unknown" and how this topic/issue is used in haiku.

Most ku concentrate on the known, the knowable, the certain, the "direct experience"—the what's right in front of us, the graspable, the tangible. there is a preference for this in English-language haiku, a discrimination one might say. it's a strong expectation.

But what about the unknown? the unsure? the uncertain? the maybes? oftentimes they can be just as tantalizing, just as invigorating, inspiring—if not more so. some things we can not know, or can't put into words, but desperately want to. sometimes the trying is enough, and the product is in itself a way of sharing experience, emotion and imagination. we become part of the mystery.

And because the poet does not know, because there is indeterminacy, and mystery, the reader is invited even more so—more involved to participate and imagine, as opposed to being overly guided, with hand held and a light shown every inch of the way. This 'unknowing' that is expressed creates a sense of openness and space (creating a sense of 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"), allowing the reader to dwell, contemplate, entwine with the poet/seer's confusion/unrest/pushing & pulling, and possibly draw a conclusion (or two).

Some examples that convey some of the unknown, the unknowable:

autumn deepens—
the man next door, what does he do
for a living?


from which tree's bloom
it comes, I do not know—
this fragrance

—Bashō (tr by Ueda)

why and
why not

—Rajiv Lather

snowlight things seem so oh i don't know
—Jim Kacian

who knows
who knows who knows

—John Stevenson

vermillion maples—
a man at the bus stop
could be Odin
—Ebba Story

Is forsythia the wrong destination

—Grant Hackett

but probably enough

—Lee Gurga

later you realize it was actually a piece of your own body

which part of me gets which part of you suddenly it's spring

—Chris Gordon

from some unknown tree, a leaf
sticking to it


Issa constantly asked questions to nature, animals, insects, the unknown—searching for answers, meaning, understanding, connection:

mosquito at my ear—
does it think
i'm deaf?

red morning sky,
are you glad of it?

does cold come from
O scarecrow?

why did the wild pink break?
O why
did it break?


the whale's eyes
stung . . . the reason

—Ken'ichi Tajima

 the metallic taste
        of what
      I can't imagine
   negative tide

—Eve Luckring

Richard Gilbert's written about how ku can convey a sense of "Pointing to the Missing Subject" (or "Point to the Missing Reason"), forcing the reader to try to resolve the unknown, to make sense of things:

counting down the goodness of man:
from the sixth

—Hishinaga Fumio

Does this seem like a viable subject to you to further contemplate and explore? Can you think of other examples that touch upon the unknown?

*just some little things revised

Peter Yovu

Okay, I'm going to change my post a bit here and say that yes, it is a great subject to contemplate. I'm still contemplating "transformation", though . . .


I'm usually on the "late" part of contemplate.

When do we get to the unknown?   :-\

Don Baird

(Sorry ... had to remove this haiku.  It is not a private posting area and therefore could be considered published by some folks if it remained.  I've removed it for that reason only)

best to all,

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

storm drain
the vertical axis
of winter


the last leaf
... on the way down
I turn away

(Don, we never get to the unknown, simply.  My offering).


How about:

the Universe
is merely an atom
of something bigger

- haiku by Mishima -


We are in the unknown, the mystery of being. Lovely Issa lived in the wilderness of his soul, it is said, so that he could become the wilderness. Maybe he was into zoka by another name.

after the laughing
mushrooms kicked in—
address unknown

— Issa's phantom

(syllableº17 hits the nail on the head)

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