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Sailing 14.5 How Do You Spell Haiku?

Started by Peter Yovu, May 26, 2011, 04:13:24 PM

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Mark Harris

agreed that of the poems i cited, the one by martone doesn't quite fit in, is on the one hand about not fitting in but also encompasses dualities that could fit together if read a certain way, which is something about his writing i find fascinating--on the one hand, yes, intellectual, on the other hand not at all. The choice (or maybe there are no choices) lies with the reader. Is he perceiving the real, or an alternate reality? Either way, I believe.

[edits to correct general sloppiness]


"Is he perceiving the real, or an alternate reality? Either way, I believe." - Mark

yes, I believe so too... or that reality is big enough for both to co-exist. The poem is grounded, the concept made approachable by that realistic image of the worm's activity though. The human activity (working out how to get in) is like the worm's activity. When we accept that, the door to the poem is open.

Ok, I suppose it takes imagination to get to that acceptance, but engaging the imagination doesn't mean the same as 'disrupting the rational', does it? I'm asking, because I'm not sure exactly what 'disrupting the rational' is, unless it applies to jokes and nonsense verse...but even there, it seems to me to be 'accommodating the irrational', but not losing the rational. Are imagination and the rational opposed?

What do you make of this one?

the river the river makes of the moon

          Jim Kacian

To me, it gives a clear visual image...the moon's reflected path on the water, flowing... a river of light (metaphor), and yes, the river 'makes' this moon river of the moon by its own quality of reflecting light. But dwelling on that, doesn't it also as a whole become a metaphor for perception? When we perceive things, do we not make them into something like ourselves or something known, project qualities of our own onto it in order to comprehend it? That the Milky Way has been referred to by so many unrelated cultures as a river shows that we bring new things into our range of comprehension by finding similarities with the known. Far from being 'just a landscape' doesn't Jim's 'river' poem use metaphor to suggest another metaphor?

Do you know Yeat's "High Talk", one of the Last Poems ( and written whilst Pound was his secretary, I think)

"All metaphor, Malachi, stilts and all. A barnacle goose
Far up in the stretches of night; night splits and the dawn breaks loose"

(well, there are a couple of spellos/ typos in that text, but the other sites I found seem to be making the same ...L 5 should be "make but poor shows", L6 should be "his timber toes" & I don't think that "stalks" should be capitalized  )

- Lorin


Catching up, because I suspect that I have a chance to learn things here. Please bear with me if I seem off-course. If I am, it's because I don't yet understand. But I'd like to.

"But, I think we do ourselves a disservice by suggesting that poetry is more akin to music than language per se.  Poetry operates by usages most of which we are familiar with and sound as meaning, as influencing meaning, is one of them." Jack

Yes, Jack, that seems right to me, sound is one of them, but not he only one by a long shot. In ordinary language, as in poetry, words have meaning, emotional, rational and metaphorical meaning. Disruptions of meaning (but not necessarily of the rational) happen often, and this is obvious in the ordinary course of any beginners class in ESL, whether through odd syntax or pronunciation. As it would happen, to listeners, to English speakers learning a foreign language. Disruption of meaning, and therefore of the listener's perceptions about what's being said, happen accidentally in this way.

A very simple might hear, for a split second, the startling claim, "I came to Australia on a sheep." So sounds do not have their own inherent meaning, as they mean different things in different languages. The sounds of language are culture specific and region specific. My hair used to rise when I had a Chinese couple living next door to me. It seemed, from my EL interpretation of sounds, that the wife was always at least giving her husband a good roasting whenever she spoke, and maybe was even about to commit violent murder, whatever time of day. It was not the case, of course. And English seems to be a 'flat' language to some cultures, as tonality and pitch do not count as much in regard to meaning. Vietnamese, for instance, seems more 'musical' to me than English. The way pronunciation changes, even across the English speaking world, subtly changes how a word is interpreted once we leave the literal meaning. eg...I never got the 'tulip' pun to be found in many American haiku I've read until I realised that Americans (though not all, I'm told by an American native to the Maine area) pronounce the word so it sounds like 'two-lips'. I'm used to hearing it pronounced as 'tule-lips'.

Whatever Walter Pater meant by

"All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music"

He didn't mean that all art, including poetry, was music, or that sound was the basis of all art. But what is this 'condition' to which it might aspire?

- Lorin

Mark Harris

"I'm asking, because I'm not sure exactly what 'disrupting the rational' is . . . "

oh come on, Lorin, get with it will you? Just kidding, and yes please, rather that getting into a paraphrase paraphrase phase, let's dispense with this talk of the rational, shall we?

I want to share an excerpt from a text, "Reading Language, Reading Gertrude Stein," shared at a Gertrude Stein symposium in New York City. It's by a guy named Bruce Andrews, who gushing in a rather over-the-top way, had this to say (haibun-like):

Individual units of language engage their own referential excesses.
No longer routed through normative syntax, they undercut our own vantage of self-reference, slipping that anchor.
Maybe our identifications can fasten on the tiniest elements, but the leaps and gaps of the juxtapositions are too big to allow the bundlings of self-assertion.
We're always teetering on the edge of disidentification, of imagining ourselves as a result of disidentifications.

                           I do hate sentences.
                           Do you mean to please.
                           Do please me.

Peter Yovu

There is a lot going on here, and I don't think I can address or synthesize all, or even much of it. But to start, let me clarify a couple of things. My view is that we are all equals on this ship, each contributing to "navigation", each contributing to "moderation". Or that is what I would hope for.

Also, and I hope Martin Lucas will not object, let me quote from something which he wrote to me when I alerted him of this thread. [Your description of my thoughts about Poetic Spell] " made me realize that my "essentially irrational" is open to misinterpretation . . . what I had in mind was [haiku] that prompted multiple interpretations, not resolving into any single interpretation".

My understanding of this is that poetry resides in what is implicit (folded-in)-- the implicit invites multiple interpretations (or a layered gestalt of meanings) where the explicit (folded-out) tends toward a single view. Probably Martone's poem speaks to this, or rather in this.

So in a sense, the irrational may be what cannot be made explicit-- or explained- or paraphrased. Or maybe it is better to say about some poems, some haiku, that a rational approach falls short of the full experience available. (I don't think anyone here disagrees with this, but I may be wrong). A rational approach (excluding other modes of perception, were such a thing possible) would only go so far in appreciating

the river the river makes of the moon

because while it might acknowledge the role of such things as intonation, it cannot speak from the body itself which feels or is moved by the intonation. Which brings me to  a longish quote by Iain McGilchrist. (The context of this is his exploration of (verbal) language having its roots in music)--

"One theory is that singing, a sort of instinctive musical language of intonation, came into being precisely because, with he advent of humans, social groups became too large for grooming to be practical as a means of bonding. Music, on this account, is a sort of grooming at a distance; no longer necessitating physical touch, but a body language all the same. And, the theory goes, referential language was a late evolution from this. It is estimated that even now over 90% of communication between humans is by non-verbal means, through body language and perhaps especially through intonation. (My italics) Communication, after all, does not only mean the kind of language we use to talk about things. Music is communication-- but it speaks to us, not about things. It does not refer (to a third party): it has an "I-thou" existence, not an "I-it" existence".

This may speak to "the condition of music" that Lorin quotes-- the condition of being in an "I-thou" relationship.

For me, what makes Kacian's poem so good, is not only what it makes me consider (that things like rivers flow with multiple meanings and are infinitely implicate) but how it makes me feel by way of intonation-- it is a little chant, a lullaby. . . I sleep into another reality.

I daresay that a hundred people (I among them) hearing it could be rational and have a hundred things to say about it ("multiple interpretations") but that most would be moved, in some way, the same, if only below the threshold of the rational mind.

Edited for clarity.


Hello all,

Just a side note to this poem

after rain
they're visible—the faces
in the trees

- Martin Lucas

that illustrates to me how the meaning of anything is downright slippery when one is navigating the broadness that is the English-speaking world (and let's not think about what happens when we venture any further afield).

For example, New Zealand has three official languages - English, te reo Maori and NZ sign. We have a Maori-language TV channel that is bilingual with many programmes only in te reo (and subtitled into English) and which screens many films and documentaries about indigenous people in other parts of the world.

To the west of the South Island are the Chatham Islands - the last refuge of a pre-Maori group of Polynesians known as the Moriori. Over several centuries these people carved figures into the living trees on the islands and a good number survive.

So when I read this poem I bring my own associations to it and although I know Martin is English and probably hasn't been to the Chatham Islands or even knows about the tree carvings, my knowledge of them are what surfaces first and I clearly see a setting and "know" what the poem is about.

Of course, there will be other cultures which include similar carvings.

So how we read a haiku may be as dependent on the way the wind is blowing or what we had for breakfast as our understanding of English!

Pinning down something made from words to examine closely has always seemed to me to be particularly difficult - especially as the only tools we have are other words!

Thanks to all for such an interesting discussion. I don't get to THF much these days, but the Sailings make a visit worthwhile.


Gabi Greve

Hi Sandra,
thanks for introducing some real faces in the tree.

Here are some from Japan, where the tradition of carving Buddha statues in living trees has a long tradition


after rain
they're visible—the faces
in the trees

- Martin Lucas

Mark Harris

are you suggesting Lucas had in mind actual faces carved into trees when he wrote his poem?

Peter Yovu

Mark, what do you make of Andrews' statement? Is he talking about the kind of thing Stein did with Tender Buttons, for example? Can we say that haiku (sometimes) is "not routed through normative syntax"? I guess I would take this to mean that one's usual, or habitual, or expected way of seeing (reading) is disrupted, making it difficult to project (assert) one's self onto what is perceived, leaving what?. . .  only perception?

Does this approach what you are thinking?
And, out of what state of mind (or state of self) does such (not routed through normative syntax) writing/perception arise?

I like "the bundlings of self-assertion".

Red Roses

  A cool red rose and a pink cut pink, a collapse and a sold hole, a little less hot.

G Stein

Mark Harris

closely reading haiku that is "not routed through normative syntax" could be another way to approach our topic. And yes, I think Andrews is talking about the kind of thing Stein did with Tender Buttons and he is also inspired by Ron Silliman, who (in)famously championed and explicated her:


  Custard is this. It has aches, aches when. Not to be. Not to be narrowly. This makes a whole little hill.

I don't know if only perception is left, although questions about the nature of perception are at the root of my own haiku investigations.

You ask, "out of what state of mind (or state of self) does such (not routed through normative syntax) writing/perception arise?"

unbundling self-assertion (I like that too) would be a good starting point. I don't want to give the impression, as I may have done before, that the writing itself is unreasoned or not conscious. Gertrude Stein by some accounts was possessed of an outsize sense of self, and one could read her experiments such as Tender Buttons as assaults on normative syntax, etc. Yet, once assaulted (or guided or invited), I'm led to a wonderful world of words beyond the normative, a world of shifting perspectives. She led me there, and so must have been there, if not at the very moment of writing the final draft. To progress, usually not in a straight line, from perception to conception to translation---that's the quest.


Peter Yovu

Okay, so is there a way to connect this (if even disjunctively) to this thread on "vigorous" language, or language which casts a spell, etc.? We are veering toward the work and thinking of the LANGUAGE poets (insert some equal signs if you wish). Or should we devote a Sailing to this? I tend to think we would do well to wait until later, but if there is momentum and interest now. . .  why not? I can't say that I know a great deal about the LANGUAGE poets, but it could be quite interesting to examine how that work relates to haiku or doesn't, or what it may open up.

Just to give a bit of location, here's something I grabbed from

"Key aspects of language poetry include the idea that language dictates meaning rather than the other way around. Language poetry also seeks to involve the reader in the text, placing importance on reader participation in the construction of meaning. By breaking up poetic language, the poet is requiring the reader to find a new way to approach the text".

If we go down this road (can a sailing vessel go down a road?) we get into some pretty heady territory, no? And it would be helpful if someone among us had some familiarity. . .

Mark Harris

Mainly, I was attracted to the language, "not routed through normative syntax" and "bundlings of self-assertion," etc., because I'd borrowed the rational/irrational language and realized it wasn't right for what I wanted to say.

I am attracted to Stein's work in the vein of Tender Buttons (a good example of vigorous language, imo) and am intrigued by Silliman's, and do think it would be interesting to explore how it relates to haiku, but I also would need to rely on someone who knows more about their work than I do.


" Language poetry also seeks to involve the reader in the text, placing importance on reader participation in the construction of meaning. By breaking up poetic language, the poet is requiring the reader to find a new way to approach the text". -

Language poetry & haiku do clearly have the first in common, and often the second, too (though I'm not at all sure that the 'new' isn't redundant there in relation to Language poetry  :) for me it's implied...a way to approach the text, any way at all we can find to get in! has to be 'new' to any particular reader.

Despite this joke ku, early in my 'haiku' writing

after the lecture
on L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry
... not a word spoken                    

- published in The Mozzie, Feb. 2005

and despite that I have reservations about a poetry movement in which the theory is so often more interesting than the poems themselves, the efforts of the Language poetry people have influenced late C20 -C21 'mainstream''s all part of the river.  

I'd recommend that anyone interested in following where this thread looks like leading read Ron Silliman's charming, intelligent, unpretentious and relatively accessible The Chinese Notebook. It can be downloaded free here:

(We have Chinese Boxes & we have The Chinese Notebook.  8) )

Apart from The Chinese Notebook, which might be a poem... it's certainly not your average discursive essay, it has something in common with Peter's 'Sailings' ideas (propositions & contemplations)...of the various essays on Language poetry I skimmed, those by Lyn Hejinian appealed most to me.

" 131. Sad is Faction. That sounds alone are not precise meaning (in the referential sense) means that before the listener can recognize content he/ she must first have the perception of the presence of words.

132. But if one denies the possibility of referentiality, how does sad is faction differ from satisfaction? How do we know this?

133. "Post-syntactical" implies that syntax was a historical period of language, not a condition inherent in it. Rather than seeing language as a universe whoe total set cannot be dealt with until all its conditions are brought into play, this designation opts for an easy and incorrect solution. Occasionally, it has been used in such a fashion as to assert some sort of competition with "syntactical" writing, with the supposedly-obvious presumption that, being later in language's various conditions, it is more advanced. Such a view distorts the intentions and functions of abandoning syntactical and even paratactical modes.

134. Terms, out of context, inevitably expand and develop enlarged inner conditions, the large field of the miniaturists."

- from The Chinese Notebook, Ron Silliman

Extracts do not do justice, though. It does need to be read as a whole , since it is a whole of interrelated parts.

...& of course I was thrilled that Ron Silliman liked this ku of mine:

their wings like cellophane remember cellophane  

- 1st pub. Roadrunner IX:2,Mar. 2009

So I wrote this one, for him:

white wind
where in the word
is the world?

- Roadrunner,  Issue IX: 4, November 2009

- Lorin

modified: corrected typo (or Freudian slip?) - "Apart from Chinese Boxes, which might be a poem..."  ::)


" the meaning of anything is downright slippery when one is navigating the broadness that is the English-speaking world (and let's not think about what happens when we venture any further afield)." - Sandra

It's true, Sandra, that some words don't mean exactly the same things across the English-speaking world (my story about how a friend, a Sister of Mercy, got back at a priest at an American conference who kept  telling her that he was "rooting for her" will have to wait  ;D ) And it's understandable that an image such as 'faces in the trees' would put you in mind of those 'tikis' carved into trees (and what a sad yet impressive history to those people...I followed yr links & read)

But I think some misreadings disappear when we consider the whole of a haiku, For instance, 'faces in the trees' in context of 'after rain, they're visible.' What kind of faces might not be visible (but not necessarily non-existent) without certain conditions, such as bark being soaking wet? To me, that precludes carved faces or any humanly wrought faces, which might be more (or less) visible 'after rain', but not invisible under other conditions.

Every word counts!

But it does help, in EL haiku to know where in the world the writer is writing from so that we don't interpret haiku only from the insular perspective of our own region. Japanese people reading Japanese haiku don't have that problem, but we do.

- Lorin

modified: changed 'writing' to 'reading' in last sentence

Mark Harris

"Apart from The Chinese Notebook, which might be a poem... it's certainly not your average discursive essay, it has something in common with Peter's 'Sailings' ideas (propositions & contemplations)...of the various essays on Language poetry I skimmed, those by Lyn Hejinian appealed most to me." --Lorin

yeah, and here are a few lines I like from Silliman's memoir, Under Albany:

Client populations (cross the tundra). Off the books. The whole neighborhood is empty in the daytime. Children form lines at the end of each recess. Eminent domain. Rotating chair. The history of Poland in 90 seconds. Flaming pintos. There is no such place as the economy, the self. That bird demonstrates the sky.

and elsewhere on this site, a couple of years ago, I shared some lines by Rae Armantrout. We can learn a lot from her, I think.

Material for a different Sail? It might be better to take a more deliberate tack later. Whatever you all prefer--twas not my intention to blow us off course.

I'm going to have to bow out for now. A personal challenge outside this friendly corner of cyber space is demanding all my energies. I'll look forward to following along when I can. thanks,


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