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Field Notes 7: Off-topic discussion

Started by Field Notes, August 06, 2014, 09:29:12 PM

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Philip Rowland

Richard, Re.

安死術夜戦の谷の蟹にある                  平畑静塔
anshi jutsu yasen no tani no kani ni aru      Hirahata Seito


砲音に鳥獣魚介冷え曇る                              西東三鬼
houon ni choujuu gyokai hie kumoru                  Saito Sanki

the versions we ended up with were:

clean kills: in a night war a canyon a crab


at the shriek of artillery
birds beasts fish shellfish
chilling dim

My guess is that the second of these is more in need of revision, tho the first is tricky, too...

Richard Gilbert

Quote from: Philip Rowland
the versions we ended up with were:

anshi jutsu yasen no tani no kani ni aru

clean kills: in a night war a canyon a crab

         -- Hirahata Seito


houon ni choujuu gyokai hie kumoru

at the shriek of artillery
birds beasts fish shellfish
chilling dim

           -- Saito Sanki

My guess is that the second of these is more in need of revision, tho the first is tricky, too...
Right! Thanks Phil. There is the weird (creepy/horrific/ironic) rhyme-sense-rhythm of "no tani no kani ni aru" [lit. night war's canyon's/valley's crab is /: a crab exists]. And Sanki's "hie kumoru" [chilling dim] is about as bizarre in Japanese as English. Ito and I had many discussions about this. I was tempted to think of "hie kumoru" as "extinction" (of all life, of wildlife, or ? but perhaps this is conceptually overwrought). In the end, our imaginations failed us -- we finally returned to just trying to say in English what it says in Japanese, without a further "figuring out." I wonder if a sensitive bilingual poet/translator might offer an alternate translation -- Fay, where are you!?

Philip Rowland

Re: Richard' reply #15, above:

First, the comments of mine (of 15 years ago) on Ashbery's haiku were not meant to be taken as particularly relevant to "war dead", though in terms of the perceived "abstraction" of both (Ashbery's further along in that direction, agreed), some slight connection may be made. The BHS consensus on "the nature of English haiku" that I referred to in the essay and Paul Miller's comment on the "distancing" effect of "blue mathematics" may be related (similar). Hopefully, my take on the Ashbery haiku is clearer in the context of the whole essay (in which, as I wrote, my broadest aim was simply "to challenge or at least complicate the received view that it is necessarily 'concrete images, not abstract words, that carry the meaning and create the tension and atmosphere in haiku'"). "Haiku moment" and "the continuous flow of experience" were terms of the BHS consensus (the notion that the haiku arrests a moment in time, registering its temporality), and my adopting those terms in reading the Ashbery haiku was a bit tongue-in-cheek. 

I agree that the "war dead" haiku is more realistic; Ashbery's ku more surrealistic -- or abstract expressionist? In the latter, there seems to be no "event," other than "the mind in the act of finding / What will suffice" (Stevens), to which to relate it. It is playful (and to be playful, you have to feel pretty much at home), and, I agree, it's a line drawn in the sand, one kind of limit, regarding genre in haiku ("tundra", for example, another). I wouldn't go so far as to say that it's "a big tease," though (has nothing to do with pole-dancing, I presume!); I find it "makes sense" rather beautifully; its "veracity": that it's damned hard to explain or paraphrase! -- or as you put it, "that it exists!" (In the David Porter piece on Dickinson that I referred to in an earlier post: "Abstract expressionist artists since Kandinsky have sought representations of this sort of experience that unknowably is.) "The twisted pole gone in spare colors" touches on something that's hard to put your finger on, in somewhat the same way as "blue mathematics".

Sugimura's "war dead" seems, in contrast to Ashbery's piece, uncanny, not at home in the world to which it refers. It is "abstract" in the sense that it takes an ineluctable fact and tries to come to terms with it metaphorically, via an idea-image (or "strangely abstracted image").

I have to keep this brief, but thanks for the thoughts in response!

PS. (re: #17): Yes, i love that "...yasen no tani no kani ni aru" - how to reproduce some sound-sense of that?! Right now I prefer " a night war's canyon a crab" to what we had. 

Peter Yovu

Very happy to read: "Abstract expressionist artists since Kandinsky have sought representations of this sort of experience that unknowably is".

I have waking and more often hynagogic moments that slide across my consciousness like continents of oil on the skin of a bubble which elude, allude, illude . . .

Ordinary language will not do to say what such experience "unknowably is", and one finds the upwelling of "the twisted pole gone in spare colors" as refreshing rain from the bubble's burst.

Blue. The Dictionary of Word Origins says this:

"Colour terms are notoriously slippery things, and blue is a prime example. Its ultimate ancestor,
Indo-European bhlewos, seems originally to have meant 'yellow' (it is the source of Latin flavus 'yellow' from which English gets flavine 'yellow dye'. But it later evolved via 'white' (Greek phalos 'white' is related) and 'pale' to 'livid, the color of bruised skin' (Old Norse has bla 'livid'. English had the related blaw, but it did not survive, and the modern English word was borrowed from Old French bleu. . ." .

math, n. a mowing. --ME. math, fr. OE. maep, 'harvest, crop' . . .

"blue mathematics" reminds me how little English is spoken in haiku, which typically favors restraint and spare language. To do as Shakespeare did, and Dickinson, and draw from many roots, to yoke Anglo-Saxon and latinate words, or words of Greek origin, so as to juxtapose in sparkful dissemination . . . seems not be the way, perhaps cannot be the way.

And so I often think of  English language haiku as translation, as approximation of Japanese, as examples to give some sense of how haiku is (and does) to those who do not know Japanese, and beyond that as examples of examples. The way forward may be by way of the English language itself. But then, the way forward may not be haiku.


Quote from: Field Notes on August 07, 2014, 12:11:24 AM


war dead
exit out of a blue mathematics

     -- Sugimura Seirinshi (trans. Richard Gilbert and Ito Yuki)


Thank you so much Peter for creating this space, and that we can discuss and breakdown various matters, but in particular, for me, 'blue mathematics' and touching on the color blue in other haiku away from the 'norm of colour'.

Why does 'blue mathematics' continue to work for me after hundreds of re-readings?   Just that some haiku I read, can be read that many times, as much as summer grasses can be, despite the fact it was not anti-war, but perhaps a completely neutral poem.

Yes, true, in the English versions of Basho's verse there are no higher register words yet 'blue mathematics' contains one higher register, to a degree, and the combination, at least in the English version, of 'blue' and 'mathematics' might appear to be a phrase in a higher register than necessary, yet that 'phrase' haunts me, as calculations are constantly made regarding counter-aggressive actions such as the recent attacks against ISIS in Iraq for instance.  What group of politicians and bureaucrats would not consider the effect on a political election sometimes over and beyond the actual need for action to defend non-combative civilisations?

Basho was an envoy, and a double agent. Yes, it appears so.  His double life was being a poet and not a stooge for the more urbanised group of people in his time.  Just as Sugimura Seirinshi has not forgone his duties as a poet by being a stooge for the growing corporate companies who wanted Japan plunged into war for territory.

"If all men lead mechanical, unpoetical lives, this is the real nihilism, the real undoing of the world."

Reginald Horace Blyth (1898 - 1964)

Source: Zen Quotes
Contributed by: Zaady
Alan Summers,
founder, Call of the Page


Quote from: Richard Gilbert on August 07, 2014, 01:45:58 PM

sennsisha ga aoki suugaku yori detari 

war dead
exit out of a blue mathematics

Literally, in given word order:

戦死者 (sennsisha) = war dead (KIA)
が (ga) = (concerning [subject]: war dead)
青き数学 (aoki suugaku) = blue/natural/of nature
but! also:
unripe/unnatural (e.g. "This fruit is still "green" [unripe, not yet ready])
+ mathematics
より (yori) = showing "like" | comparison | connection
出たり (detari) = to come out of / exit

Thanks, Richard. This is useful. It's hard for me to know how to value an interpretation or rendition because I'm never sure if the English words carry even the mood that the author conveyed in the original, let alone the meaning, which also depends on things like movement, pace and emphasis, not just the words.

Quote from: Richard Gilbert on August 07, 2014, 01:45:58 PM

青き数学 = blue mathematics. This is in no dictionary, because this collocation is the poet's neologism.
. . .
It is true that "blue" has many added meanings in English. But then, "blue" (as "aoi") has many different meanings in Japanese, as well. In English, blue is a color of nature (ocean, sky) but also the "blue" of the blues, of sadness, tragedy, depression. In other words it (like "aoi") offers contrary, contrastive or contradictory meanings. so the use of "blue" for "blue" in Japanese is actually the only interpretive move, in the translation. The signifiers differ yet in both languages they are semantically complex and paradoxical or agonistic (polarized); a different poem is created, yet with a similar sense of agon, tension .

And that, above, too.

Yes, blue has many hues and many associations, but why has the poet chosen 'a blue mathematics'? When two words are put together like this, each changes the other. In relation to mathematics, my experience of 'blue' (in my imagination) becomes colder (is this just me, just a personal peculiarity?) It also becomes more the blue of distance (the further away things are hills ...the more blue they appear to be to the human eye) What I'm trying to say is that 'mathematics' must have an effect on how we experience 'blue', on what sort of blue we bring to mind, it's not just the other way around ('blue' as adjective qualifies 'mathematics' as noun)

出たり (detari) = to come out of / exit

Who is coming out of, exiting, leaving? (genuine question! ) Could it be the author/ poet himself, the one reflecting on the subject of the 'war dead'?  Or is it the 'war dead' who leave, exit, the last of their existence being as numbers accounted for in records?  Becoming a number as well as being dead seems to make those people ('the war dead' ... no names, nobody's son etc. ,nothing personal) into abstractions, but then...

Or do they return to mind, come out of abstraction as 'the war dead', individually and in groups,  into the memories of the living? Come out of, exit the cold, distant numbers of the death toll and haunt the living? Weigh on the poet's mind?

Blue with associations of cold and the colour of distant things, mathematics as measurement (and "measurement began our might" or the like from Yeats). The colour blue measured as having a shorter wavelength and higher frequency than all other visible colours apart from violet since the C19 (so, though 'leaving' the visible spectrum , not as far toward the end as violet ... & therefore more present than Dickinson's 'amethyst remembrance' that Sandra mentioned)

I'm a bit like Paul M.  The childhood fairytale that's lasted in my mind is 'The Emperor's New Clothes', so I admit to a chuckle at Paul M.'s "no pants" comment.  :D  The reality, though, is that I'm  more open to this 'war dead' ku than I am to many relatively contemporary American 'war dead' haiku, which strike me as sentimental and manipulative of the reader and all much the same. 

For me, this poem is cold and mysterious, with a haunting quality. I can't say I get it but I can't dismiss it. I know how I feel when I recall how many horses were killed in WW1. And how many Australian horses. The numbers are a cold weight.

Why is the mathematics blue, though? I can't fathom that any more than I can fathom the convention, in traditional Japanese verse, of having the autumn wind as white.

But I've not seen any objections to 'white wind' as a kigo.

Forgive the musings and stumblings and rambling ... it's all I can offer, it's where I am with this one.

- Lorin

Paul Miller

Among other things, I think this poem interestingly speaks to the notion of translation. A poem like Basho's frog pond is probably "fairly" straightforward to translate since for the most part its pieces are objective and relate in logical ways. Not necessarily in the sense of explaining the cut parts, but we know what an old pond is, we know what a frog jumping is.

The "blue mathematics" haiku, on the other hand, is very abstract, and as we have seen "blue" might not even be the right word (as in: preferred by the poet over the choice of "natural" etc). This is not a critique of the translators who are doing their best with what they have—which is most often not the poet themselves.

I have always thought of haiku as a shared activity, where a poet tries to share his "moment" or impression or experience with a reader. When the pieces are fairly objective I think a translation can capture the poet's intent, and thus allow the reader to discover it as well—or at least get close. For abstract poems I'm not sure that is true. As Lorin asks, why blue? And what does that have to do with mathematics? In a way we have multiple cuts of meaning; the poem ceases to be cut once between the two parts, but additionally between individual words. I think my interpretation of sadness (from the blues) is most likely a western construct and probably has nothing to do with the poem. But I don't know.


ps. I happily acknowledge that there may be a range to my idea of sharing, and that perhaps some poets ask me to create my own poem/moment from the raw materials.  ala "Language poetry". While I find such poems engaging, I do wonder how they fit into the haiku "tradition" with its basis in sharing (ala renku).

Philip Rowland

Re: Paul's "as we have seen 'blue' might not even be the right word (as in: preferred ... over the choice of 'natural' etc":

"aoi" is a colour word; it can indicate youth or naturalness or inexperience, immaturity, unripeness, but it would, I think, be taking liberties to translate it as other than "blue".

For me, "blue" (in "blue mathematics") works because of the various and somewhat contradictory/ironic connotations, which never quite resolve; with the total effect working intuitively, too, partly due to the feeling of coldness i get from the image -- "blue with associations of cold and the colour of distant things," as Lorin wrote. If "blue" simply connoted sadness, fpr instance, it would be a considerably less interesting poem. I brought in some examples of Emily Dickinson's "strangely abstracted images" earlier to emphasise that we don't always need to be able to explain or account for the logic of an image for it to "work" imaginatively or intuitively. Some other examples, from haiku in translation, that come to mind: Sayumi Kamakura's

The child deep
in green sleep;
the mother sleeps
in purple

Why purple? I could ask, but don't feel much need to. (Which is not to say it's not sometimes worth asking.) My guess, however, is that "sleep[ing] in purple" is more accessible than "blue mathematics"; likewise Tomas Transtromer's:

The white sun's a long-
distance runner against
the blue mountains of death.

Or even (returning to haiku written in English), perhaps more challengingly, Ashbery's:

a blue anchor grains of grit in a tall sky sewing

As with "I inch..." (mentioned in my FN "Challenge" and in Peter Yovu's post on this page), it may not be necessary to make clear sense of the poem referentially for it to "make sense" poetically; the interplay of syntax, sound and images (quite vivid in "a blue anchor...") takes precedence. I wouldn't be surprised if many baulk at Ashbery's haiku, for amounting to little more than the play of technique, but presumably few would argue that modernist and postmodernist conceptions of poetry be disallowed in haiku?

Lorin Ford

Paul, Philip et al,
                         Returning to this today, I'm reminded how specific English probably is compared with Asian languages, perhaps especially in relation to object and to time. I have nothing but admiration for the efforts of translators of poetry who labour in attempt to give us some idea of what the original poem might be like.

How differently might this haiku be read with the seemingly unimportant swapping or omission of the definite article for the indefinite?

sennsisha ga aoki suugaku yori detari

war dead
exit out of a blue mathematics


war dead exit out of the blue mathematics


The Japanese might actually be more like:

war dead exit out of blue mathematics


If in the Japanese there are no articles or similar indicators, just "out of blue" , then it'd be up to the reader to infer collective ('blue mathematics'), indefinite ('a blue mathematics' ... one of several or many instances of blue mathematics) or definite/ specific ('the blue mathematics') which also allows the 'out of the blue' colloquialism to come into play.

Only the author himself could tell us, I suspect.

- Lorin

martin gottlieb cohen



I worry that the love of the gun will increase as tensions build up even more around the world:

she carries the warm gun's child
Alan Summers,
founder, Call of the Page

Jan Benson

Yes yes yes,
It absolutely amazes me how many international, industrial-nation cities participated in the 1/21/17 human rights and dignity demonstrations; the impetus being reactionary to Trump's lack of values.

Everything I saw on t.v., in regards to the marches, showed a sense of decorum and peaceful demonstrations, with singing and speeches.
History holds many examples of resistance movements in the past. And agreed, guns eventually become actualized when the voices are ignored.

--There is a growing disregard for "police" in America, and an example just last week here in Texas, of another officer killed.
--Trump seems to be moving to a police state, but it is early.
--I do believe even non-gun owners are buying handguns at this time.
--Even here in this active living (senior) complex, the ladies in the gossip groups are talking guns, "for protection". Those who own them are glad to share knowledge on the topic.

---1st Prize_The Italian Matsuo Basho Award 2016 (Int'l Foreign Language)
---A Pushcart Nominated Poet, (haiku "adobe walls").
---"The poet is accessible, the poet is for everyone." Maya Angelou

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