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Poem qua Poem

Started by Jim Kacian, February 13, 2011, 02:18:55 PM

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Jim Kacian

Hi All:

Today's Per Diem haiku is this:

As geese arc, the fog
closing behind them ...
the poem's false start
                —Rebecca Lilly

Haiku are so short that they rarely are self-referential (though in this case it could conceivably be another poem to which Lilly is referring). Even so, she is making us aware of the writer being a writer. Perhaps a little of this goes a long way, but is it successful here? Are there other instances we can think of where it is more or less successful? One related tradition that immediately comes to mind is the trope of the untainted journal page or sheet of paper as emblem for purity, and therefore for the poet's untrammelled mind, as in nick avis's

freshly fallen snow
opening a new package
of typing paper

Others? And how often before it becomes stale. Or has it already become so?


Hello, Jim,

Way outside of the topic under discussion, the problem for me is the lack of correct grammatical construction --  To put it in sentence form (always a good test of syntax) "As geese arc, the fog closing in behind them" is a verbal mishmash that grates on my ears.  Either they are a dependent clause and a participial phrase, and the rest of the sentence is omitted (why would someone do that?), or else it's a bad construction.  I cannot get past that sort of thing and appreciate a piece of writing, haiku or no.

Beyond that, I'm not a fan of metafiction and I'm not a fan of metahaiku.  Both put the writer too much in the spotlight, when what I want is what the writer had -- the unfiltered experience.

So if not stale, I would say for me, definitely a yawn.

"Nature inspires me. I am only a messenger."  ~Kitaro

Peter Yovu

There are two possibilities here: one, that "As geese arc, the fog/ closing in behind them..." is indeed intended as an incomplete sentence-- which would be made clear by the author's intonation in reading it out loud. The problem with this is that I can't see what there is about this incomplete sentence which compels me to understand it is a false start. The second possibility is that the lines are intended as grammatically incorrect, and therefore enact a false start, "illustrated" by the image of fog taking over. Without hearing the author speak the poem out loud, I don't know which way to go, and frankly the whole thing becomes clever at best, annoying at worst.  

Don Baird

While I like light poems, even on the edge of silly, I'm not real fond of poems that retain too much of the author's presence.  An interesting poem, yet it might never climb from the pages of poetry to the realm of haiku.  Too much author involvement and too ho-hum as a result.  I remember Gene Murtha popping in on a haiku of mine 10/15 years ago and leaving a comment "so what"? ... this poem reminds me of that moment (with all due respect, btw).

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

storm drain
the vertical axis
of winter


As geese arc, the fog
closing behind them ...
the poem's false start
                —Rebecca Lilly

I wondered, briefly, why 'the poem's false start' rather than 'the unfinished poem' or the like. (It's morning here & I haven't finished my first cup of coffee) Then I read Cat's post.  8) Then it occurred to me (thanks, Cat!) that the odd construction of Ls 1 & 2  did not go unnoticed by the author. I'll wager that she is as aware of the 'mish-mash' and that this poem is 'about' the drafting process, the unsatisfactorily rendered image. The irony, self-referential. Here, it's quite interesting because it tempts the reader into completing the 'true' poem, which doesn't exist; the one that isn't written but (one assumes) was in the author's mind... this Plato's ghost, 'ideal form' of the poem or intuitive sense of a poem that the author knows she has failed to render. ( I happen to have a lot of those sort of poems myself, the fog thickens daily, it seems) It's humorous because it catches reader/writers out... hands up anyone who was tempted for a moment to give c & c (like me) to rewrite it as the 'true' poem.  ;D

I doubt that writers will ever give up writing about writing. It began long before anyone wrote haiku in English and it is an authentic part of experience. Once the author's stance of 'omniscient' became questionable, the author looking over his/her own shoulder became part of many Modern texts and the main narrative in some cases. (It only became categorised 'Post-modern' in retrospect, I believe. See James Joyce, T.S. Eliot and other 'Modernist' writers) It can be slight or trite or merely clever, but this one works well for me; it 'enacts' what it's about. I prefer it to the Nick Avis ku.

I guess it becomes stale if everybody says the same thing in the same way, but surely that's the case with any subject.

- Lorin

Chris Patchel

Interesting topic and comments. I can think of numerous examples of self referential haiku, including several of my own (which I have mixed feelings about). Here's two that work for me:

the haiku
completely gone
by the  time I've dried my hands
                     Karen Sohne

revising poems,
a third cup of tea
from the same bag
                     John Stevenson

Though I don't think the poem under discussion will make my list of favorites I have more appreciation for it after reading this thread. 


There are a few haiku with awkward syntax, and I'm okay with it, if it's a closely considered decision.

I like Karen's as an example of how fast we forget a line or an entire haiku.  But I'm biased after Karen popped over from Toronto to do a kasen with me at Bath's main railway station. ;-)

Likewise biased with John Stevenson, but because I adore his work, and can relate to this haiku and pretty much all his others.

But self-relating haiku do work, as does poetry (and novels etc...) when coming back to the author.


Mary Stevens

As geese arc, the fog
closing behind them ...
the poem's false start
                —Rebecca Lilly

I like the way she put "the fog" on the first line to make concrete that it is closing in on the geese, who are arcing from ground to sky, starting their long flight. I also believe she's referring to another poem with a false start, because this one is off to a good one.

My main concern is that the poet seems to suggest that the geese will find the imminent weather condition as undesirable as humans experience it when traveling. It's a tinge of human projection onto nature, and departs from the suchness of geese (at least what I know of it). I hear geese under cloud cover as often as under clear skies. Given how far and through how many climate zones they travel—and how much time they spend gathering beforehand, I don't think much stops them when they're ready to go. Therefore, the link between a false start in nature and in a writer's process doesn't work here. Too bad. The two sections of the poem are really nice on their own. It certainly is a challenge to juxtapose two images to capture human experience, yet do so without contaminating the images, themselves.

Regarding the self-referential question, I see self-doubt as part of the suchness of writers. If the poet can carry it off in a fresh way, I'm happy to contemplate that suchness. In the poems that Chris provided, I can relate to Karen Sohne's poem, but prefer John Stevenson's: he makes me work for it. Interesting that both poems take place in kitchens. I guess poetic neurosis is pretty much senryu territory. Not much of that nonsense going on in nature. 


"A word that breathes distinctly
Has not the power to die..."

            —Emily Dickinson

Jack Galmitz

The poem disappears into itself; that's its intention I think. That's its ingeniousness.
What the poet thought was the subject is covered up, swallowed up by another subject, the fog closing in, emptying the poem of its subject or what the poet thought was her subject.
Hence, the false start; can never tell where and when and what is the beginning.
I would just like to point out to those who ridiculed the poem that Rebecca Lilly holds an MFA in writing from Cornell and a doctorate in Philosophy from Princeton, so I wouldn't hastily dismiss her efforts; I'd think more about it before venturing an opinion.

Gael Bage

I concur with Lorin's comments about this, very similar to my thoughts. I also find it hard to see this as
human projection onto nature, as for me we are an interdependent part of nature anyway, I never see us as something apart from nature or superior to nature in the first place. After all we use the phrase human nature, yes we can be ingenious, so can other creatures in their own ways if we look closely. Even a plant can recognise a cutting as a separate part of itself. I agree with Jack too, yes ingenious.
Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance
- Carl Sandburg

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