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Sailing 14: What kind of sword do you carry?

Started by Peter Yovu, March 06, 2011, 01:20:09 AM

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Going back to McClintock's haiku:

"unsettles" - Peter

Peter has used this word twice, and it seems to me to capture the feeling I take from this poem - 'unsettling'. The quaint little inn is a picturesque image, perhaps even nostalgic. Yet working against that are those insistent, repetitive i sounds...

a little inn
with a swinging sign board
the evening chill     
             --M. McClintock

It's those small creaking sounds which resound in one's bones, and along with 'evening chill', make the image of the little inn feel a bit 'iffy', that enact a nagging intuition which undercuts the picturesque and comfortable. This ku is cinematic, in that the visual and the sound work against each other in a complex, quiet but disturbing way.

- Lorin

- Lorin

Peter Yovu

Couple of business items first. Just to be clear, I am the moderator of Sails. Over on Troutswirl, my view of my role was more along the lines of "host": I put out the chips, dip and beverages, and friends gathered for conversation. It may be a bit different on the Forum, but not too different I hope.

Also, we now have the ability to modify posts, which is great, because it allows for improvements in what we present, clarifications, corrections etc-- a drawback is that rewrites may go unread. It may be helpful, if you make substantial or important changes to a post, to write something at the bottom to indicate what you have done, thus signaling to readers that it may be a good thing to reread the post.

Perhaps more problematic is the "remove" function. I've used this myself on other threads, and remind myself now that it is sometimes best to write a response first on Word or whatever program one uses, save it, and sleep on it before posting. I believe all contributions are important, though it is going to happen, most assuredly, that one's heartfelt statement is not going to get the attention the poster believes it should. There might be any number of reasons for this, but it does not mean the statement won't be heard, or have an impact down the line. I would like to be able to tie everything together and keep everyone more or less "on the same page", but this is not really practicable. And anyway, I trust that this will, with all of our attention, happen nonetheless, somehow.  

This form of "disembodied" communication does not mean that we out here, real people at the wheel of our keyboards almost anonymously driving along, are not vulnerable and subject to all the needs and wishes of flesh and blood people.

My hope is to have as coherent a conversation as we can, respectful, mindful and as embodied as possible.

If you have any concerns about any of this, please email me or send a message.

I'll be back at some point soon to say a few things about Peggy Lyle's poem, and be looking for your thoughts as well.

Modified: deleted redundant word and other minor changes.

Peter Yovu

How does one experience a haiku, or any poem? I've suggested that one way, via the structure and interplay of sounds and rhythm, is in and by the body itself, perhaps even before it is experienced in any other way.

pine tops
against deep twilight
a bob-white's call

Peggy Willis Lyle's haiku (and though I sadly wish that she were here to talk about it, I also wish to honor her memory and her work) is a good example of this, I feel. It seems to require one to read it out loud, which means to read it not with the eyes alone, through which we will experience it as image, but to read it with lips, tongue teeth. . . . Is it fair to say that this haiku is experienced by the mouth as well as by the imagination, the mind's eye? Let's suppose that Peggy's experience was immediate; it all happened at once and moved her. The sound and rhythm of the poem move us, they have an impact on the body, and what the body experiences is always immediate. Imagination, association and analysis are always mediated by the past. Well maybe not always.

I suspect that this will rub some sensibilities the wrong way, but if one can allow the possibility, what does it say about the poem, or rather, what does the poem itself, on this most basic level, impart? Again, there may not be a rational response to this. The "sound-image" the poem creates may not be describable in terms of the eyes; rather than say "Oh, yes, I see now", we can only say "I feel it to be true", or maybe, "it tastes right".

My sense is that the delight we have is some haiku is quite physical, and relates to the vigorousness, or life of the language. I wouldn't say that this idea should entirely wipe out the idea of haiku being "a wordless poem", but for me, the idea of a haiku being "a wordless poem" by no means negates the pleasure a reader may take in tasting words, or in being moved by the rhythms they create.

So what I would like to invite now, until other aspects of this subject emerge, is for all/any to submit haiku which have some of this sense I'm talking about, haiku where the life of the language delights,
(even in dark or "unsettling" ways, like McClintock's-- "a string of ifs").

Here's one by E. S. Lamb

a tiny dead bat,
spraddled on the sidewalk
in this blaze of sun

And how much would be lost if the author had decided not to use the wonderfully, soundfully odd "spraddled", or had to decided to go with a spare, conventional structure like:

blazing sun--
a tiny dead bat
on the sidewalk

Chris Patchel

Quote...where the life of the language delights... -Peter

dark darker—
too many stars
too far

This poem by Gary Hotham is a longtime favorite of mine, and I remain amazed that it manages to be so overtly poetic, with so much use of rhyme, repetition, alliteration, cadence (I love that each and every word is accented), without straying from its haiku restraints. It's a small ecstasy of language, emotion, experience.

Peter Yovu

dark darker—
too many stars
too far

Chris, yes, this is a great example of how the "body" of a haiku may have a direct impact on the reader at a very physical and emotional level. It feels like a primal utterance, a cry of anguish and longing, but also of awe. With a few small changes, it could be a line from King Lear or something.

So what does this poem say to those who feel subjectivity has no place in haiku? It is deeply subjective, and yet, because the feeling it evokes seems so connected to the "fact" of darkness, and so choiceless, the subjectivity does not seem to pull one away from the darkness, but to deepen it. Does this seem right?

Chris Patchel

At the end of its leaf
the inchworm, feeling
for a foothold on the wind

mountain air
a caterpillar reaches
the twig's end

These two poems, both written the same year, make for an interesting comparison in languaging a nearly identical scene and inspiration. The first one by Alan Wells, anthologized in RMA, is overtly poetic with far more descriptive language, longer form, alliteration, absence of a cut. The latter one, by an'ya, uses a few choice words (with 'reaches' doing double duty), makes strong use of internal comparison, and defers to the reader to picture the climax of the scene.

Both of these use language in ways that impact the reader, though I personally find one of the 'swords' more effective.

(Cross-posted with Peter's last remarks.)

Peter Yovu

At the end of its leaf
the inchworm, feeling
for a foothold on the wind

mountain air
a caterpillar reaches
the twig's end

Definitely make for an interesting comparison. Well, first gotta say that by my last count there were 1,219 caterpillar/inchworm-at-end-of twig/branch haiku, which kind of dulls me. Scott Metz' take is:

a comma attached to the tip of the flowering branch

which might give one pause, 


The first, were it read only with the eyes and not with one's rhythmic and muscle systems, comes across as somewhat florid, "poetic", or more to the point as the "idea" of poetry. It "reaches" too hard for poignancy, as I see it, and as I feel it, it's very singsong, a series of anapests, da da DA  da da DA, which I suppose someone might say mimics the action of wind. The language to me is languorous, not vigorous or alive. It just makes me sleepy, but maybe others will find that movement appealing and right.

But it's good to have a haiku which demonstrates a strong sound and rhythmic structure, but one which works against it. One could ask whether or not the "sound-image" juxtaposes with the "visual" image in a useful way. Not for me.

Mark Harris

this talk of creaking signboards, and inchworms reaching for footholds, and stars too far, makes me think of this by George Swede

again down at the river
the son who doesn't know
what to do

with its series of soft sounds that meander like a river, or a restless young man, or a father not sure how to help.

Chris Patchel

Quote...1,219 caterpillar/inchworm-at-end-of twig/branch haiku... -Peter

Yes, too many haiku about just about any subject we can name. I like John Stevenson's take in this one:

all those haiku
about the moon in the trees
the moon in the trees

QuoteSo what does this poem say to those who feel subjectivity has no place in haiku? It is deeply subjective, and yet, because the feeling it evokes seems so connected to the "fact" of darkness, and so choiceless, the subjectivity does not seem to pull one away from the darkness, but to deepen it.

I can concur with that observation of the poem. The subjective experience is anchored in an objective one, which allows the reader to relate to both. I think there is room for a broad range of objective and subjective haiku approaches. Gary Hotham, for instance, usually writes in an a more objective style but didn't feel bound to it in this case. Form follows function, the function in the case of poetry being to elicit a certain shared response in the reader.

Mark Harris


I also think that John Stevenson haiku is amusing. The repetition in the second and third lines is characteristically understated.

Understanding haiku in terms of objective/subjective has limits that Peter's current sound-image lens sidesteps in, for me, intriguing ways. I agree with Peter that a poem, whether subjective or objective (imo, individual perspective cannot be objective, but that might be a debate for a different thread), also interfaces with the reader or listener in the way Peter claims, through our body's reaction to the body of the poem.   

I've lately enjoyed many hours reading a couple of John Martone's recent books, scrittura povera and ksana. Here are two poems from ksana. Their language is, to me, vigorous.

quarter hick'ry shell
                       winter's last




Chris Patchel

Quoteimo, individual perspective cannot be objective, but that might be a debate for a different thread -Mark

Mark, little argument from me on that point. It's a literary device to present it at a remove.

The other part of your comment I'll have to take a second look at when my brain's not fried.

PS- I can't say I get what John Martone is up to with his line and word breaks (maybe someone can enlighten me), and the eyelid idea does little for me, but I do like how the words feel to say aloud.


I'll try to catch up with other posts bit by bit, but:

pine tops
against deep twilight
a bob-white's call

- Peggy Willis Lyles

"The sound and rhythm of the poem move us, they have an impact on the body,. . ."

Yes, they do. Peggy Willis Lyles' work is that of an accomplished poet. To my mind, where this topic seems to be heading is timely as well as interesting. It's not new that poets have always used sound and rhythm to enact and embody the sense of their poems, but is it because haiku first came to us English-speakers in translation that certain vetoes and misunderstandings seemed to gain favour, such as "haiku do not use rhyme" ?

Possibly Kenneth Yasuda's translations of Japanese haiku into end-rhymed tercets, whilst attempting to adapt a feeling of Japanese rhyming technique, didn't help matters as, in English, the end-rhymed tercet is familiar as the 'jingle' (much used in advertising in the 1950s) In the jingle the sound dominates the sense, doesn't support, enact or expand it. In memory of long-suffering parents on long car trips with singing children, who took hours before finally crying out, "Enough!":

You'll wonder where the yellow went
When you brush your teeth
With Pepsodent!

- 1950s advertising jingle, Anon.

On a withered bough
A crow alone is perching
Autumn evening now

- translation of Basho by Kenneth Yasuda

Whilst extremely effective as a mnemonic device (as testified by the fact that both of these verses seem to be hard-wired into my memory whether I like it or not!), formulaic rhyme in such a short poem takes over and detracts from sense.

Peggy's use of assonance (a subtler form of rhyme)

pine tops
against deep twilight
a bob-white's call

adds tangible substance to sense; it doesn't take over, it deepens. Though I've not experienced a bob-white's call, I know other bird-calls at that time of day. A solitary call resounds and seems to give depth to the dark and deepening blue, where only tall things which are darker are distinct against the sky. The name of the bird stands out here, somehow blending with the call ( a common instance of one form of 'synaesthesia' that many of us experience) which is as much "against" the twilight as the pine-tops; a known, recognised call amidst much that is becoming indistinguishable.

I've loved this translation of Basho's poem since I first read it, and Peggy's poem puts me in mind of it:

The sea darkens
and the voices of wild ducks
are faintly white

It may be just good luck that there's that assonant echo between "wild" and "white" there in English. One wonders whether the sounds in the original Japanese support or extend the sense of the poem further.

- Lorin


" (imo, individual perspective cannot be objective, but that might be a debate for a different thread)" - Mark

Briefly: I am grateful to read this here today. I know this to be true, too, but it's so good to have it confirmed twice in the one day.

(the first time was whilst reading something by the gentle and wise, down-to-earth Vietnamese Buddhist writer Thich Nnat Hanh this afternoon: "We should not be sure of any perceptions we have." This is not offered by him as a rationale for rampant subjectivity, though. . . far from it! It's a cue to a gentle reality check on the nature of our own perceptions and those of others)

And yes, the "body senses", that Peter has brought up: along with the 5 recognised senses (sight, touch, hearing, taste, smell) there is the 'body sense' (or senses) we know as 'apprehension', 'gut feeling', 'intuition' and the like. There is nothing 'mystical' about this. I live in a big, mostly arid country where the original people survived many changes of environment over a period of more than 100,000 years by using all of the human senses and rationality/logic as well. They did not write. Their primary art form was dance.

- Lorin



I too enjoy Martrone's structurally innovative indented line breaks that add a welcome vigor to the language and lineation. One of my favorites by John:

             quicker than lake's

of course, "content" is always first & foremost, but if the poet can fuse "content" with creative lineation and actually have the line breaks vigorously mimic the movement of the "dragonfly"--the poem takes on an added dimension of enjoyment--for me.


Peter Yovu

Al brings up an important point: " '. . .content is always first and foremost. . .'". I throw it out again to him and all of us: is this really true?

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