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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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Let me clarify--if I may--what I mean by "content".
For me, content is the overall "meaning" or a "feeling" that I  receive after reading the haiku. Of course, the meaning can be  greatly enhanced by a an innovative structure/form--provided it fuses with "content". Additionally, an innovative structure can--under certain conditions--become the pervasive "catalyst" or the "deciding factor" in determining the ultimate enjoyment of a haiku. But "vigorous words" or "innovative structural fusing" (ie concrete "language happenings"--to borrow a popular term from the 70s "concrete  "new poetics") if lacking "content"--to me--in and of itself--does not result in a highly successful haiku. To borrow a popular  e e cumings phrase

"since feeling is first
who pays any attention
to the syntax of things
will never wholly kiss you

But certainly "vigorous language" combined with "meaning" (perhaps intellectually perceived) will trigger a bodily (emotionally visceral)  reaction from me--culminating in the pleasurable enjoyment of the haiku.    

Hopes this clarifies,


Chris Patchel

Quotea poem...interfaces with the reader or listener in the way Peter claims, through our body's reaction to the body of the poem. -Mark  

Each of us apprehends poetry/art with the head, heart, and body in varying combinations and degrees depending on how we're wired and what most interests us. ('Body' in the instinctual sense that Lorin referred to, which may or may not be the same way you and Peter are referring to it?). Part of what I look for in a good poem/painting/song/film is some kind of a balanced appeal to all three. I want to be sensually engaged, emotionally moved, and intellectually stirred in some way.

Billy Collins' Introduction to Poetry is a fun reminder that I can often get too head oriented:

Quote" '. . .content is always first and foremost. . .'". I throw it out again to him and all of us: is this really true?

Again, what is first and foremost will be somewhat different for each person. But form and content are seamlessly inseparable in a successful poem. And obviously both need to be strong enough to hold their own. We don't want dry boned concepts or mere syntax that "will never wholly kiss you"

These head, heart, body categories are far from exhaustive. Another thing that is important to me is some connection on an experiential level. I want to learn something of who the author is by reading her/his work (even if it's fanciful fiction, the flying pope, say). Without that it's merely clever (look what I can do with words). But that maybe gets back to voice, for another thread perhaps.

Chris Patchel

PS- I think and feel art pretty strongly (I'm split pretty evenly on a Meyers-Briggs score) but am less in tune with this whole business of 'body' sensing, so this discussion has me grappling with that aspect a bit more. Haiku, of course, always challenges me to stay anchored to the physical-- the stuff of my environment, and my body, and of language.


"('Body' in the instinctual sense that Lorin referred to, which may or may not be the same way you and Peter are referring to it?)." - Chris

"(I'm split pretty evenly on a Meyers-Briggs score) but am less in tune with this whole business of 'body' sensing, " - Chris

Hi Chris, the body senses, to me, are the five recognised senses plus a generalised 'body sense' which most likely is instinctive and seems connected to emotion, but surely it's no more or less instinctive than the five recognised senses? When we say a work "moves" us, doesn't it mean that we've responded to it in a way that has registered in our body in some way? That 'goosebumps' feeling or 'hairs standing up on the back of the neck' are two really obvious bodily reactions, but our response to the Michael McClintock poem (the 'little inn/swinging sign/evening chill' one that Peter quoted, eg) will depend on how the sounds work with or against the images and rhythm, as we allow it all to register.

Who knows, but the generalised "body sense/s" might simply be a pre-conscious or semi-conscious awareness of something that has registered? That the body (including the nervous system & brain) have perceived data but the conscious mind has not yet sorted and defined it? The everyday expressions we use to describe emotions seem bodily based; something "warms our heart", something "gives us the creeps", something is "a pain in the neck", a sound is "piercing", "soothing", "lulling".

Quote from: Peter Yovu on March 23, 2011, 11:49:30 AM

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?

If it were the case, I imagine that the job of poetry translators would be a lot easier! Also, if we consider nonsense verse (and the delight it holds, & not just for children. . . consider Edward Lear, Lewis Carroll...'The Dong with the Luminous Nose' etc) we need to allow that it's not always so.

Content and the elements of form in a poem combine to make the whole and can't be separated. The quotation from Cummings that Al gives is clever in the way that the form undercuts (works against, to some extent) the prose sense of the words.

I can't get youtube, (technological dummy that I am..I used to have it) but recall Billy Collins's "Introduction to Poetry"

- Lorin

Mark Harris

Peter's idea is related, I think, to a notion expressed by Spinoza, who wrote that, "The human mind is the idea of the human body."

We don't simply receive sensory input, compute the information, and then perceive the "reality" around us. We are constantly building concepts of our worlds, models if you will, and they are never complete or finished. Mind and body are connected by systems that predate human systems, and information used in world-building comes not only from what we consider rational thought.

We can't be sure why we like what we like. Therefore, I think Peter is suggesting, we have to question the content of our content.


"Mind and body are connected by systems that predate human systems, and information used in world-building comes not only from what we consider rational thought. " - Mark

Definitely! Ever see a young cat, generations of whose forebears have lived in the city suburbs, do an all-fours vertical lift-off at the sight of nothing but a coiled garden hose? (Then they'll return to earth and approach the hose, cautiously, and do a good 'reality test', and it never happens again.) I have, with several individual cats (who never met), years apart. It happens only once per cat. I worked out that snake is 'hard-wired' into cats, somehow, a gift from their ancestors. (Australian cats, anyway)

Why should we be any different? (well, I prefer this sort of explanation to the 'Matrix' scenario  8) )

- Lorin

John McManus

We're not any different.

At the end of the day we're all living things whom are dependent on experience and thought.

For me the power of a poem lies mostly within it's rhythms and resonance, content or subject is usually a secondary thought when I read a poem for the first time. I realise that opinion will not be shared by everyone and it all hinges on how people allow themselves to react to a poem.

My reasoning to allow a poem's rhythm to dictate my intial experience of it is that I view all language (spoken or written) to be a derivative from the 'inner rhythms' of our existence.


Quote from: Peter Yovu on March 22, 2011, 08:37:51 PM

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

mountain air
a caterpillar reaches
the twig's end

a comma attached to the tip of the flowering branch

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.

These three are interesting to consider, not only in terms of sound, but image in the full sense.

The first takes longer to read, and longer to dwell on. At first, I responded to "a foothold on the wind" more or less as others have: "overly poetic". But the more I return to it, the more I see that it's not 'poetic' but a well-observed description. It's good, I think, in the way that the rhythm leaves one dangling, doesn't conclude but returns the reader (this reader, anyway) back to the beginning (the wind. . .at the end of its leaf. . .') Perhaps this inconclusiveness & circularity mightn't appeal to everyone, but I can't dismiss this haiku.

The second makes traditional use of 'cut' and more modern use of line breaks, giving us the reaching caterpillar as one image in L2 then the 'little surprise' of the difference sense of 'reaches' we have to accommodate in L3. This is a more 'modern' haiku, in that it plays with the inherent ambiguity of the word 'reaches' and also gives time for that reaching to gain length, both via the line-break.

The third overturns the tradition poetic devices of 'personification/ animation' ( can't recall the right technical word!) by having a comma replace the image of a natural thing (a comma puts me more in mind of a leech than an 'inchworm or caterpillar, btw) and therefore is subversive of expectations, entering further into a focus on the language itself. That comma is disruptive, and no doubt intentionally so,  in the sense that it directs the reader towards seeing the other images as words, rather than images or what the words signify.

Looking at these three ku in terms of 'body sense' or the visceral response only, I have to say that for me they affect me in descending order, with #1 the most visceral and #3 the least.

- Lorin


"a comma attached to the tip of the flowering branch"

The way I view this interesting one-liner:

The "comma becomes the metamorphic "referent" that transforms what would otherwise be--as Lorin suggests--the most declaritive of the three (or least visceral). The coma works as a triggering point that enhances the visual. It reminds me somewhat of one of my favorite ku that uses a punctuation mark as a lead-in to the phrase--triggering a visual/visceral response from me. 

winter gravestone
hyphen between dates
my father's life

  --Thomas Martin

Like the "comma" in the one-liner, the "hyphen" above spurred my visual /visceral reaction--flooding  my minds eye and entire being with my own father's life.


Chris Patchel

Quotewinter gravestone
hyphen between dates
my father's life

I liked the first tombstone hyphen haiku I saw, but since then I've seen more of those than poems about caterpillars/inch-worms reaching, which makes me wonder why the editors haven't. It's not just that it's a common image like the moon, say, which can be used an infinite number of ways. The hyphen poems all say exactly the same thing.

Peter Yovu

I'll make a bit of a wild hypothesis: poems (haiku) which do not find the "body" they long to inhabit are doomed to repetition, lost souls wandering in ghost towns, latching onto tumbleweeds and scraps of newsprint. The haiku Al has shown us (and this is not a commentary on his experience, please) cannot last long in the body it has been given, which is a little pile of bones with no connective tissue. We tender hearted writers of haiku may be inclined to take it to our breasts to warm and nurture it and tell it encouraging stories, but it may be too late. It lacks vigor.

Is it a requirement for haiku or poetry in general that it arise out of living, vigorous language? Are there examples that indicate otherwise? Do even some barebones poems have some demonstrable linguistic spark?

Here are two of the sparest haiku I could find in C v d H: (Jack Cain and Larry Wiggin)—

an empty elevator

the long hairs
on my neck

Can we talk about these in terms of vigorous language, or its lack?

edit: the empty elevator to an empty elevator


an empty elevator

I'd like to direct my commentary on "an empty elevator" ku. (I believe I first encountered this with the first word being "an")

I experience this viscerally. I like the repetitive rhythm of this symmetrically-pattererned  ku. And the layered imagery adds to my visual enjoyment.  

The structure is almost like a filmic "splice" technique and the double jux (opens..closes)
is effective in my mind's eye visualizing the entire moving image. This poem  reminds me of another favorite of mine--with similar structure and "splicing" technique

           the cat in
           the fog in

                 ==Vincent Tripi

To answer your quiry: yes, I find the language sparse but vigorous.

Peter, thanks for offering these. They are among my favorites.




Quote from: Peter Yovu on March 23, 2011, 11:49:30 AM
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?

If I may further elaborate:

My definition of "vigorous language" is language (words) that stimulates the senses stronger than other words. But as I've mentioned in another post pertaining to this thread--the language must lead to meaningful "content" in order for me to appreciate the language that brought me to a successful ku. Language can be vigorous, words can combine with other words in various structural delineations--but the bottom line (for me): does it resonate with "meaning?"   Meaning is foremost--words are simply triggering points that either lead to "meaning" or fail to. No word or words are "vigorous" in and of themselves. A quick example

a yamagucci flout
I rak into the pin
with moles in my brams

This sounds vigorous, appears to be a vigorous haiku of 3 lines, 17 syllables. But I just made this up (in dada fashion) . To me, it's meaningless and hence unsuccessful.

but look:

a shakuhachi flute
I step into the wind
with holes in my bones

   --Peter Yovu

Same structure, same syllable count, but now this takes on great meaning for me because the vigorous language (words) have "meaning."


Peter Yovu

Thanks Al, for your help here. I hope you won't mind if once again I direct something you've said to further discussion.

So, here is my question to all: is it true for you that, as Al says,

"Meaning is foremost-- words are simply triggering points that either lead to "meaning" or fail to".

I have my thoughts on the matter, but I'd like to hold off, and for now offer a poem by Jim Kacian which can be found in the latest Roadrunner:

the high fizz nerve the low boom blood dead silence

Does this one-liner illustrate Al's point, call it into question, generally mess with it. . . ?

On a separate matter, I have a request to make: if you know someone whom you believe might have something to add to this conversation, please contact them.


the high fizz nerve the low boom blood dead silence

vigorous language, yes, and I can feel the effect of an amplified boom box being turned off...or--metaphorically feel that a high-strung altercation/ argument resulting in a (perhaps strained?) unresolved silence..but these associations and perceptions by me were the result of the words being combined in such a way as to produce a meaningful haiku.  If you change the words (maintaining the same structure and vigorous wording) but the words (however vigorous-sounding) have no generally-accepted "meaning"--just a jumble of nonsense--the poem would lose its efficacy for me. It might have meaning for some--some may even ascribe or invent  "meaning"--but this (albeit dada or mentally delusionary) crowd would be a very small percentage, IMHO

As Peter suggests..I hope others will enter the fray--and let me know if I'm way out in left field here (perhaps I'M the one delusional??)..


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