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addressing the psychological aspect of literary craft as it applies to haiku and senryu



Even More Mood:
Wabi, Sabi, Empty

BY Paul Watsky

                                    an empty elevator

                                         —Jack Cain

                                    (The Haiku Anthology, p. 21. All poems quoted below are from this source.)

Orwell in 1984 dwells on the theme that it’s hard to generate a thought, especially an abstract one, without a word to match the concept. By the time native English speakers reach adulthood it’s likely their culture will have grounded them in the meaning
s of faith, hope, and charity—fortunately so, because without words for those philosophical categories it would be lexically cumbersome to converse, and maybe even think, about them. Consider the intelligent, articulate horse, Gulliver’s master in Houyhnhnm land, who, unfamiliar with the term lie, must fall back on a periphrasis: the thing which is not (Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels, New York, The Modern Library, 1958, p. 195). Wabi and Sabi, words deeply embedded in Japanese Buddhism, including Zen, have no exact counterparts in English, and hence a plethora of verbose definitions, which struggle to capture their connotations:

            Intrinsic to Zen is the notion of (as Suzuki calls it) “eternal loneliness,” or
            Sabi…which can mean many things to many different people:…the contented
            loneliness of the Zen monk, meditating in the mountains;…the natural order
            of existence; the idea that we are born alone and must face life accordingly. There
            is no sadness in this, merely acceptance… Wabi, or poverty—sometimes actual,
            financial poverty—sometimes in a spiritual sense…has more to do with the
            acceptance of such a fate than a dwelling on its problems. It is similar to the
            Buddhist notion of “non-attachment.” (Wabi Sabi for Writers, Paul Elliott)

Unlike with English usage, where faith, hope, and charity don’t transpose well from the ethico-religious to the aesthetic register, wabi and sabi, are highly compatible with Japanese aesthetics:

            The Japanese aesthetic [derives from]…a set of ancient ideals that include wabi
            (transient and stark beauty), sabi (the beauty of natural patina and aging), and
            yugen (profound grace and subtlety)….. In the Buddhist tradition, all things are
            considered as either evolving from or dissolving into nothingness[—]…not
            empty space,…rather, a space of potentiality…. Over time [wabi and sabi
            converged until…unified into Wabi-sabi, the aesthetic defined as the beauty of
            things “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.” (from Wikipedia)

Elaborately nuanced mood signifiers without English equivalents, wabi and sabi defy us, the heirs of a post-medieval humanist tradition that splits apart aesthetic and religious values, to transpose their subtleties into our poems.

Although our individual nouns and verbs seem unequal to the task, some adjectives, despite their generally well-deserved bad reputation for weakening style, at least partially lend themselves to the purpose. Empty, for instance, which serves as a descriptor in several realms, including the esthetic, qualifies if matched with apt subject matter. Furthermore, the word is attractive because it’s been less doggedly exploited than dark—only nine instances in The Haiku Anthology (pp. 4, 21, 23, 70, 153, 154, 215, 273, 283), compared with dark’s 29.

The wonderfully textured tone of the following haiku by George Swede combines aesthetic appreciation with a Buddhistic acceptance of life’s transitory nature:

Long train
horizon sun flickers through
the empty cattle cars (p. 215)

This haiku nevertheless grants leeway for readers to experience sadness over the fate of the cattle, who probably went to premature and unpleasant ends, but tonally it remains far more neutral than the following angrily ironic Eric Aman piece, where the concepts of heaven and earth are starkly opposed:

Winter burial:
a stone angel points his hand
at the empty sky (p. 4)

The sky’s emptiness powerfully refutes and rebukes what the angel presumes to represent, and depending on our belief systems, some of us will feel angry along with the poet, others, at the poet. The Buddhists among us, however, may conclude he simply failed to comprehend or never read those scriptures which communicate the doctrine of non-attachment.

The essential suchness of wabi-sabi is closely approximated by Margaret Chula’s

sudden shower
in the empty park
a swing still swinging (p. 23)

Transient and stark beauty, indeed, and tonally straightforward—without the slightest steering of mood—similar in that way to the elevator haiku, and hence functionally close to aspects of Japanese aesthetics, but we should note the subject matter carries a lesser emotional load than does death.

We can see the powerful tonal effect of a kigo in the following poem, which I first will present without it:

my childhood desk drawer

In the above we already encounter the culturally-loaded home, which, especially when paired with the associatively-charged childhood, conveys a flavor of sentimental longing, yet the haiku’s energy level receives a further, exponential, boost when it is read as its author, Michael Welch, intended:

home for Christmas:
my childhood desk drawer
empty (p. 273)

Xmas trumps the wabi-sabi spirit, and the poem steers us towards themes of retributive justice by means of the distinctly occidental allusion to an empty Xmas stocking. The speaker implies that he experiences whatever caused the drawer to become empty as a punishment. Do you smile at the irony, laugh at the poet’s predicament, or sigh nostalgically? Everything depends on your own associative tendencies. But that word empty, redolent of the void, really is full—of possibilities.


Headsets (((introduction)))

Headset (((one)))

Headset (((two)))

Headsets addresses the psychological aspect of literary craft as it applies to haiku and senryu. Poetry elicits emotion and associations from readers by means of subjectively potent rhetorical devices. Classic psychotherapy questions will be asked: “What’s happening here?” and “How do you (might one) feel about that?” Readers are invited to examine their responses, and poets to explore their purposes. Headsets is overseen by Paul Watsky.

This Post Has 75 Comments

  1. The key to coordinating much convoluted theorism in both haiku and life is the understanding of MA. How quickly we become lost in labyrinthine speculation without this fundamental understanding of the primary and eternal interface between nothing and something. In the MA arena the ultimate juxtaposition produces its endless dramas, little and big. By understanding MA we can begin to see the forest and not be bamboozled, beguiled and cognitively fractured by the myriad leaves and their hypnotic shadow play.

    — jp

  2. I’ve been drawn away from this blog for awhile and while catching up I am very glad to hear that Paul Watsky will not be leaving as he does bring up some very interesting points that bring out a lot of discussion…it’s the only way we can learn… I am glad that cooler heads outweigh any hurt feelings here. It’s what makes THF such a special place.

  3. In the late 80’s I went to a couple of Robert Bly’s “Great Mother” conferences. These were, and no doubt continue to be, sometimes turbulent and always stirring confluences of poetry, psychology, mythology and the unexpected. One quality that was highly prized in participants was a willingness to show oneself, even to make a fool of oneself.

    Bly himself often said something like: “I don’t know if this is true, but I’m going to say it anyway, and maybe you can tell me”. I’ve always found that a useful, and generous approach to serious exploration of any kind.

  4. ” It’s worth the small disappointments and hurts that come our way, if we allow ourselves to learn from them and bounce back again. As Mark said we “there’s much to learn here.” ” – Carmen

    Nice, Carmen! And it is only us, fallible humans, who are trying to share in something here. Personality politics need to be put aside.

  5. Right, there’s nothing wrong with asking questions. That’s healthy. I admit, I need to learn to ask why someone chose to say this or that, find out more of the background, and pause before giving my opinion. One might react to others assumptions, but not be aware of that they are making their own.

    If we could all sit down, eat and drink together in a face-to-face discussion, there might be fewer misunderstandings. I have not detected anything said with a hostile intent on any of the sections of this Blog, strong opinions at times and ramblings, but not real hostility.

    When I first came across the original Shiki forum that was started in Matsuyama, it was chaotic and even hostile at times, I can remember planning to quit several; however, it was part of the real world of the real, raw world and poets there found great connections and lasting friendships.

    Even criticism that seems half-baked can contain half-truths. We often use the expression “haiku community.” Would there be less disappointment and more understanding if we met face-to-face? I don’t know. I’ve personally felt both at haiku conferences; however, the process of meeting in person or Online is always worth it in many ways. It’s worth the small disappointments and hurts that come our way, if we allow ourselves to learn from them and bounce back again. As Mark said we “there’s much to learn here.”

  6. “I think it’s great when someone asks a question of someone else, or of everyone. And why not? Why not ask if *this* is what was meant?

    I find more and more that it is necessary to come to terms, if at all possible, with the nature of this medium, and to make one’s statements as real as possible to create some semblance of ground.” –Peter Yovu

    I’ve been thinking about our current lull and what led up to it, and how to communicate how I approach these sometimes convoluted and interwoven conversations that are never quite that. The threads of our comments are sometimes picked up and sometimes not. At times, an unexpected answer arrives from an unexpected source, is what we want to hear or not, becomes a tangent that reveals another and then returns to topic changed. He or she who attempts to control the weave of our fabric will confront chaos and order both, voices from the ether, bodied or disembodied, with real or made up names. Yes I agree, we need to make our statements real, which meaning will be different for you Peter than for me. We have different experience, mind, body, and yet most of us come here with good will wanting to share and ready to ask and answer if we can.

    I come here to learn, and there’s much to learn here.

  7. There are openings in our lives
    of which we know nothing.

    Through them
    the belled herds travel at will,
    long-legged and thirsty, covered with foreign dust.

    Jane Hirshfield, excerpted from “The Envoy”

    Looking back over my posts, I see I’m guilty of talking over and around other’s posts at times. If I’ve offended in doing so, I regret my oversight. John mentioned earlier that he didn’t feel the timing was right and did not feel qualified to respond to Gabi’s post. Likewise, I am often reticent to contribute unless I have something distinctive and relevant to add.

    Also (timing again) I’ve observed that some people become offended if they don’t receive a timely response to an inquiry. Don’t forget, our circumstances differ. Some of us are retired. Some are busy, sometimes up to the hilt, with jobs and families and handicaps of many varieties. For some, finding the time to post here is a luxury.

    It’s possible, in the context of P. Watsky’s comments, that some of us are intrigued and simply desire more exposition before we plunge in.

    Occam’s razor, I think, is more useful when applied to ducks than poems, which usually (Michael Welch’s included) contain layers of meaning.

  8. There are numerous hazards, I am finding, inherent to a blog, even one as relatively sophisticated as Troutswirl. I doubt if any section of it has gone without a few elbows being thrown and caught in the ribs, sometimes lower.

    In conversation occurring in the “real” world, a misdirection of tone can be quickly adjusted, assuming the good-will of the participants. Here, despite a lot of good-will, such misdirections, like the slight mis-hit on a golf ball, can veer wildly off the mark. Seems to be the nature of the medium to amplify and distort, maybe partly because it is so easy to project into it, in part because there is no solid and clearly shared, actual, ground.

    Which sounds like a case for pulling back, but I’m making the opposite case, I hope. A case for responsibility essentially. For myself, I feel that if I post something, I need to make myself available to clarify, correct or expand on something I’ve said. I think it’s great when someone asks a question of someone else, or of everyone. And why not? Why not ask if *this* is what was meant?

    I find more and more that it is necessary to come to terms, if at all possible, with the nature of this medium, and to make one’s statements as real as possible to create some semblance of ground. Maybe this is why I have repeatedly spoken about the body and apprehension of haiku on the feeling level before venturing into interpretation. But admittedly this is difficult: the interpreting mind has a greater vocabulary available to it than does the feeling mind. (I put it that way because both heart and belly have complex neuronal structures built in to them equivalent, in size, to certain lobes of the brain).

    I came across something Eliot said: a poem “can communicate before it is understood”.

    Paul W., I hope you continue “Headset”.

  9. I will agree with you, Paul (Watsky), that “Everything depends on your own associative tendencies” when apprehending haiku. But I do think a core skill in the art of writing haiku (and, obviously, when reading them, too) lies with being sensitive to the *predominant* associative tendencies the poem’s audience will have. Your interpretation of my “home for Christmas” poem departed from what I believe is the predominant tendency, which was why I found it odd, and still do.

    I welcome a psychological approach to interpreting haiku, and appreciate your focus on it. That sort of approach would seem to embrace an empathetic speculation about various possible meanings. I’m all for that, but there should be evidence in the poem itself for each meaning offered, or at least evidence in the biography, geography, gender, or other facts or associations relating to the poet’s name after the haiku (the haiku’s “fourth line”) or the context of where the poem appears. I found that evidence thin or missing in the notion of retribution or punishment (and especially the stocking reference, as I mentioned), and even if that “possible” meaning is explored, I believe it should be offered in (or after) the context of primary associative tendencies.

    Emily Dickinson has a poem called “A Narrow Fellow in the Grass.” You can read it at, and read interpretations of it elsewhere online if you search for them. The standard –and obvious — interpretation is that the poem is about a snake. However, it’s not impossible to imagine that the poem is about a RAKE. Indeed, imagine the “whiplash” of stepping on a rake and having it jump up at you out of the grass that it “divides as with a comb” when you step on it. In high school, I wrote a paper (an intentional spoof) about this poem, making a case that it’s about a rake (the sort of rake pictured at, not a leaf rake). I made no mention of a snake, deliberately, as part of my spoof. Yet the evidence for a “rake” interpretation was still clearly there in the poem itself, and not based on fantasy or excessive free association. This spoof worked, I believe, because of the predominant (even obvious) tendency to interpret the poem as being about a snake, even though the poem does not actually mention a snake (nor is a rake, of course). It seems to me that understanding this common associative tendency is essential for apprehending poetry, and of course central to apprehending haiku. My spoof paper would not have worked if I’d said it was about a mongoose (or whatever), because there is no evidence for that interpretation in the poem itself. I think we should be careful not to find mongooses in haiku where there really aren’t any.

    I don’t mean to suggest, Paul (Watsky), that you found a mongoose in my haiku. Rather, I would just say that it’s useful to remember Occam’s razor (, which posits that the simplest solution is usually the correct one.


  10. Thanks, John. No apology called for. Your comments have been constructive.

    I’m a newcomer to the blogosphere, where the emphasize seems to fall on expressing disagreement rather than on dispensing positive reinforcement.

    Re: “the sometimes thankless opportunity to serve,” my soldiering on will depend on how consistently thankless it feels to do the blog. I’m a costs/benefits ratio kind of person, and when I’m away from the office and/or my family obligations, I try to look after the hedonistic aspect of my personality.

  11. Now that it’s clear to all that such an approach will not be innocuous, I hope you will continue, Paul (W.). I understand the urge to step back but hope you will accept the sometimes thankless opportunity to serve. If I have been among those who have discouraged you (not my intention), I apologize.

  12. I’m grateful to Lorin for her post of 5/16, wherein she traces an associative process very similar to mine when I explored how Michael’s haiku worked tonally for me. She also highlighted a sloppy passage of mine: “The speaker implies that he experiences whatever caused the drawer to become empty as a punishment.” I would have been truer to my theme, and no doubt to the reality situation, if I’d written that for me the poem’s dramatic situation is suggestive of retributive justice. And shortly after my slip I did in fact say, “Everything depends on your own associative tendencies.”

    I’m grateful for Jack’s first two posts of 5/18, and for the overall tone of Paul MacNeil’s comments.

    It was not my idea to inflict “Headsets” on the haiku community. I was invited to undertake the blog, and I regard it as an experiment—not at this point a very promising one. My intention has been to write as a poet for fellow poets, as a poet who by dint of his work life and temperament inclines to think about the psychological dimension of experience.

    My first three columns attempt to explore how haiku are evocative of mood, by means not only of what their authors consciously place there, but also by dint of unconscious factors such collective elements as tacit cultural and lexical influences as well as the idiosyncratic characteristics of readers. I imagined this, erroneously, to be an innocuous agenda.

    I’m not only willing to shut down the blog or hand it off to somebody more in tune with its readership, I’ll probably decide do so unless it seems I can enjoy the process entailed.

  13. Lorin:
    Thank you for the connection. I’ll give it a read tomorrow, as it’s getting late here.

  14. oops… wish I could delete that ‘death & resurrection’ bit. Duh! That’d be Easter.

  15. Jack and Paul Mac 😉 … may I add that there is nothing in Micheal’s haiku that would guide readers to a specifically religious view , rather than a cultural holiday view, of Christmas. If there were ;-), well, I’d read that empty desk drawer in a different (humorous!) light… death and resurrection of the contents? But it would be, for me, a far lesser ku.

    …and thanks for being curious about kangaroo-apples, Jack. The fruit seem to have been on the local menu for thousands of years

  16. I’m led to believe that even in Japan, among non-Christians, that Christmas is understood and the gifting part, at least, has some standing in the culture. Carols & Santa Claus, Gabi? This is true in the USA among Reformed Judaism congregations. Oh, not an official elevation of the prophet (so considered) Jesus, but a melding of custom. I had friends in school who had best of both worlds, Hannukah and Christmas. (not mixed marriages, either) Better presents at Christmas… even having, not just a joke: Hannukah Bush *i.e. Christmas Tree.

    I was raised as a Christian, but am not one now. The USA and indeed much of “the West” so called, has conventional social tradition of Christianity. In English, I posit that Christmas as a penumbra of meaning is well understood in the West. Certainly as kigo.

    That my friend Paul Watsky approaches in a non-Christian or non-religious way? As Jack says, psychological is one approach. Michael disagrees about that one. I too said that, but tried to not be personal about it.

    By the way, in other lists, fora, I’ve mentioned that “Paul” in text means more than one person. At THF we even have 3 Paul– initial M’s. Me, Paul Mena, Paul Miller (paul m.), Add Paul Watsky at a minimum. In the Montage, also Bill Pauly, and Matthew Paul, for good measure. Ha! So, please… specify your “Paul.” for clarity’s sake, and to be polite. I took no offense at remarks aimed toward Paul W., but I was on the thread, too. I’m hard to offend, and I think Paul W. is too………… Bye.eee

  17. Well, Lorin, you’re right; I looked up the reference and found kangaroo-apple on the internet. I couldn’t find kangaroo-apple month, but I assume (though perhaps wrongly) that in New Zealand it is a period of time when the tree blossoms?
    Yes, also, one either knows about “other” cultures or religious observances by assimilation (if they are a part of the mainstream of one’s general culture, or, if not, by research).
    And, yes,one can draw on one’s own experience to interpret a poem/haiku without necessarily needing to know the particulars of a religious or cultural reference (unless it is central to the poem).
    I’ve already posted on this site a rather revelatory explanation of my personal experience of coming to my parent’s home to find my old desk drawers emptied (and it would be impossible for me to separate this from any reading of someone else discussing the subject, even though I would remain aware that there are often sharp differences in experiences).
    Indeed, that ability to separate my own experience from another’s allowed me to accept your interpretation as, for me,the most probable and credible.

  18. Thank you, Jack. I have got rather used to my posts being not responded to, and therefore possibly ignored or possibly not worth reading or superfluous, but with so many people it’s probably inevitable that we will be selective about which posts we respond to and that one thread will contain many instances of ‘cross-chat’ or people talking past each other.

    Despite the fact that Gabi’s post directly after mine ‘talks past’ mine, I will respond to it by saying, ‘Would it be reasonable to expect that a reader not brought up in a culture which celebrates Christmas might be able to draw on a culturally relevant equivalent that they do know of, a holiday when it’s the norm for families to get together and exchange gifts?”

    Of course, one doesn’t to have been brought up in a Christian environment or even have a family to ‘go home’ to, to be part of Christmas, what with Santa Claus, Bing Crosby, the Salvation Army and decorated pine trees in the shopping centres (in some countries)

    And isn’t it valid to write from our own experience and culture? Isn’t it up to the reader, if totally mystified by a reference to a time of cultural celebration or observance of any kind, to find out?

  19. Well, John, that’s very decent of you. I’ve posted a number of times-after much research and thought-only to have my posts completed sidestepped and disregarded, so I respect your consideration. However, after two days without a response, I thought I’d venture to say what was on my mind.

  20. I started to post yesterday but then held it back because it was not on Gabi’s topic and I thought I should give people a chance to respond to that before going off in another direction. I can’t be the one to respond to Gabi, however, because I was raised in a Christian environment, have a pool of Christmas memories, and at one time in my life “went home” for Christmas.

  21. One other thing. Perhaps, the subject of this blog is insufficient to generate a more profound discussion of the psychological underpinnings in haiku, as the examples chosen do not readily admit themselves to such a discussion. Perhaps, the emphasis is simply limited to a discussion of the word empty in ELH and how this is similar to and different from the Japanese terms of wabi and sabi.
    If that be the case, then I suppose the discussion would be limited to “mood indicators,” and that is a far cry from a psychoanalytical approach to haiku.
    Personally, I find analysis of psychological depth in haiku more pointed than a discussion of how the word “empty” may equate or differ from wabi-sabi. That’s just my personal preference.
    As I mentioned in an earlier post, the word “empty” in itself, I believe, doesn’t take us very far.
    So, it is possible that introducing psychological interpretations to a subject that is really more about mood indicators may have set off the responses that it did.
    Having read online a bit about Paul’s practice, I was looking for a more Jungian approach (and better examples of haiku that may exemplify Jungian principles) than was found here.
    So, again, I ask you all what you think. Are we interested in psychological approaches to haiku and if so, how can we best approach the subject?

  22. It seems there has been a possible unspoken consensual agreement to let this site die of attrition. And, perhaps, I should leave it at that.
    But, I have to say that I agree essentially with Lorin Ford’s view of the matter. We tend to make statements as if they were true, rather than make them with an awareness that they are partially true, or our view, or a combination of these, or more permutations.
    I also agree with Lorin’s reading. I also found nothing odd about Paul’s interpretations of any of the poems he chose to include in this blog. They were all plausible readings,although not necessarily the “correct” readings; I sensed absolutely not animosity or sadistic impulse behind his interpretations.
    I have to admit that once a blogger took one of my haiku and intentionally tried to destroy it; he prefaced his statements with the proviso that no poem is perfect and all could be subject to refinement, etc. But, I was not overly sensitive to what he then proceeded to do. I could feel his attempt was to humiliate me through my poem and I correspondingly let him have it.
    But, that was not the case on this site. So, I found it odd, and a bit frightening, that what I would describe as scapegoating arose in response to Paul’s readings of poems. There was a positive mobbing of him that I found distasteful and questionable. I mean if someone reads poems in a conceivable way and presents his interpretation as decisive, I can see others pointing this out to him/her. But, there seemed to develop a group-think and ostracism of him that made me feel it was dangerous to engage in any further discussion.
    I think, if I am correct in my surmise, that this warrants some soul-searching and attention from all of us. I mean,really folks,if we practice an art that concentrates on what is usually considered insignificant in the world and lend it our attention and give it its value in the world, surely we have developed in ourselves an interest in and appreciation for others (whether we agree or not with them). I mean if an ant can become the universe for us in a haiku, then surely someone’s interpretation of a haiku (whether we agree with it or not) would not generate group loyalty, furor, rejection, mobilization, scapegoating.
    I’m not sure if anyone wants to look into this phenomenon. Judging from the long silence that has ensued since the last posting it would appear not.
    I would just remind you that a psychoanalytical approach to literature is a long-standing one and frankly it is not taboo, certainly in my mind, at least.
    I wonder what others think. I realize that no one has signed up to have their work analyzed in a psychoanalytic approach-even to the modicum degree that has occurred on this site-so maybe no one welcomes it.

  23. “home for Christmas:”

    I have been wondering what kind of associations this line would evoke in a reader who was not brought up in a Christian environment and does not share a common pool of “Christmas memories” (or whatever we might call them …)
    and who is not in the habit of going home for Christmas …

  24. …’when expressing what we imply’…yikes! That should be ‘when expressing what we infer’.

  25. whoops… it got away from me and posted itself! (sort of like the things that come ‘from nowhere’ in some haiku and many traffic accident statements? 😉 )

    The only problem, or better, the basis of the problem as I see it in Paul’s interpretation is this:

    “The speaker implies that he experiences whatever caused the drawer to become empty as a punishment.” – Paul

    Much is left for the reader to infer in haiku. Sometimes it might be better to express a caveat when expressing what we imply, rather than assert that we know for a fact what the author is implying.

    Yet I have noticed that this doesn’t seem to be the convention in writing about haiku: it is not only Paul who states opinion as if it were fact. Sometimes the opinions are ‘backed up’, formidably, with knowledge such as biographical details about the author, which may or may not be relevant to the poem but will often be asserted to be of prime importance.

    I don’t agree with Paul’s interpretation of Michael’s haiku, but I don’t find it particularly odd. It seems to be one line of possible associations which would begin something like: ‘I associate Christmas at home with receiving gifts and I’m surprised and disappointed to find my old desk drawer empty.’

    The context of ‘home for Christmas’ shows that the speaker does not live at ‘home’, returns home for the occasion. Surprise at the desk drawer being empty might be inferred,since the author/ speaker has considered that ‘fact’ noteworthy, but we are simply guessing if we infer ‘disappointment’. Once we do so, it is possible to get carried away and lose the poem in iffy interpretations and state our personal interpretations as if they were legitimate readings of the poem.

    And this would be the case even if the author had intended to imply ‘disappointment’, or if biographical evidence showed that the author had in fact visited home or the author told us that this haiku was written in a mood of disappointment!

    There is room for the reader to enter in Michael’s ‘home for Christmas’ haiku. What is ‘home’, to begin with, when we reflect? ‘Where the heart is, where the hearth is’, all of those things: our home is where we are at home. Here is a person who lives away from his home, who returns to his childhood home at a time of family union or reunion, a time of gift-giving and receiving (as Paul notes) and finds that something personal to him has changed: his old desk remains, but there is nothing in the drawer. Empty! On the reasonable level, well a home is not a museum, things change, housekeeping goes on, and the drawer probably contained a lot of rubbish that we’d have no further use for, having outgrown it…but o, the sudden shock/ surprise, even disorientation… nothing in the drawer!

    (My most recent experience of this sort of thing was finding my late mother’s house gone. It had remained a landmark for me, though it had passed through couple of other owners and changes since she died, but now it simply wasn’t there, neither was the block of land upon which it stood, nor the ti-trees along the fence, and I was completely disoriented, kept checking the street number, until I accepted …sort of accepted… the new block of flats taking up the whole of the land and the real estate agent’s sign for ‘these magnificent sea-view apartments’)

    A childhood desk has been (lovingly) preserved but the drawer is empty! The contents are missing! What does this do to one’s sense of the continuity of one’s identity? Perhaps it is with some regret, perhaps not, that we realise that we have ‘left home’, are always leaving home, cannot have things as they were, that we are (honoured, considering the preservation of the desk) visitors who are celebrating Christmas now with our family, for whom time has also moved on.

  26. Today I’m in the process of going around and correcting a whole slew of things that I have misstated etc. Here I had mentioned that “wordless things I know ” was from Mary Oliver but the quote from Mary Oliver should have been:
    “Thoughts that do often lie/too deep for tears…William Wordsworth” in the introduction to her book, Evidence:Poems.

    The quote “wordless things I know” came from Francine Porad’s haiku at the Cornell haiku site…Mann Library….

    I had jotted down the notes on a slip of paper as I had been pondering these things…

    Now I’ve straightened our my mind for a few minutes…can’t guarantee it will stay that way… 🙂

  27. Paul, regarding the definition of “odd” that you quoted (“abnormal, absurd, bereft of reason, brainsick, crackbrained, crazy, daft, deluded, demented, deprived of reason, deranged, and deviant”), well, yes, let me work through some of those words: Yes, I would say that your interpretation of my poem was definitely abnormal — lots of others have responded to that poem of mine, but never in the way you did. And yes, your interpretation strikes me as absurd and bereft of (most) reason — how on earth do you see anything to do with Christmas stockings in the poem, empty or not? Retribution and punishment also strikes me as an absurd interpretation. Most of the other words don’t apply to you, but I do think your interpretation is way off base.

    And if anything to do with “A Christmas Carol,” and the song “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” comes to your mind, don’t you think that should only occur to you *after* other interpretations? Furthermore, I don’t see how the book (or movie) or song could give you the odd (actually, it feels wrong) interpretations that you came up with.

    I should also say that I don’t mean these responses to sound harsh, whether at Paul or anyone. I’m just so amazed at the oddity of the interpretation that I can’t help but feel the need to be corrective. That being said, I do think it’s possible to get things out of a poem that may not have been intended, but those meanings might well be entirely personal, so one thing I’m reacting to here is the drawing out of an obscure meaning (at best) as if it’s the primary or only meaning.


  28. Actually, the main reason I feel invested in “Winter burial” is because I selected it as one of two haiku for Essence #2 to compare Amann’s “Zen period” with his “Experimental period.”

    I consider it a haiku that is influenced by Zen because it was written in the seventies during Amann’s “Zen period” and my impression of the influence of Zen (from living in Japan) is for the most part: meditative, calm and passive; therefore, it is very hard for me to see it as an angry satirical verse. If that were true, it would be a senryu, not a haiku.

    I rest my case.

  29. 😉 …hi , Carmen…different interpretations/ associations, yes: my first association with ‘Odd Squad’ was ‘Mod Squad’, and I liked the humour of that, since the characters in that police drama were ‘odd bods’, but managed to work together somehow.

    I do think that, beyond a certain point, we can get carried away with our own personal associations and therefore readings of haiku, though. We need to ask ourselves, ‘Is there a basis for this idea in the text?’ now and then.

    ‘Empty’, in the four haiku, comes across to me as giving a sense of absence, but different emotional nuances and ideas of the sense of absence in each case. In the ’empty park’ haiku, it is barely a sense of absence or rather it is not really absence at all but a persisting presence; this is given by the intriguing energy of that ‘swing still swinging’ in the empty park.

  30. Critics will always receive criticism. A little humor helps though. “Odd Squad,” the phrase that Paul W. coined is a good take on “Geek Squad,” but can I be sure that my reading of this phrase is correct or not?

    ^.^ (Japanese smile icon)

  31. Having a reader interpret my haiku in a way I had not conceived has not posed any problems for me (so far). Most of the time I am amazed at my own lack of ability to conceive of that perception myself. Once it is pointed out, so often it appear obvious. As so many times having been said, the reader brings his own life experiences to the poem, and what may be of importance in his life is not in the poet’s. Hence, the difference in interpretations.


  32. I have become very used to being interpreted in terms I could never conceive of having written or even thought of. I can’t say I’m always comfortable, but it always leads me into a better understanding of the world I live in…the way other people think and feel which is always a plus. Thanks John, that’s a great question and I expect that Headsets is as good a place to pose it as any.

  33. I just came across a phrase in a poem from Mary Oliver’s new book, “Evidence: Poems” The phrase is:
    “wordless things I know”….

    Would such an emptiness – a lack of language qualify as wabi-sabi?

  34. I think it is often the case that a good haiku, before it’s taken by the mind, will land somewhere else first: in the heart, in the gut, or…. Looking at Michael’s poem, for me, I don’t find associations right away; I don’t go immediately to memories, unless they are memories I can’t quickly find words for. Isn’t that what a poem is: words for something one could not quickly, or easily, find words for? Sensation before interpretation.

    And I don’t know what the author, Michael, intended. I don’t know, or need to know, if this poem was biographical in the sense of something that “actually” happened to him, or biographical in the sense of his finding a way to express an inner experience, or state, or even dream. My belief is, that if the poem lands somewhere other than the interpreting mind, at least at first, then my experience will be close to the writer’s, and associations I come to may differ from his, or yours, but as pines or grapes of the same kind will differ depending on where they grow.

    The approach is similar to the one that some—say James Hillman– recommend for dreams: to not be quick to interpret and grasp, but to allow the images to live inside you awhile, to work their changes. I doubt that anyone doing that with a poem is likely to misuse it. Just as I doubt that anyone willing to see another person without too quick a labeling grasp will misuse that person.

  35. If a haiku is as ambiguous and thus open to interpratation as a good Rohrschach test, then, as Carmen has put it

    “the inperpretation says something about the reader, not the haiku itself.”

    My sensei always reminds me to be clear, to write in a way that a reader can understand it at first reading, to stick to as many details as possible (focus the microscope )

    a small animal
    jumped into a body of water …
    oh dear !


  36. *********************************************************************

    I intended *blog* not bog. Hmm, or did I?

  37. I’m dying here! he says, slapping a taxi cab driven by the Grim Reaper. I had promised myself and a couple of chuckling others that I wouldn’t post so soon but:

    Good question, John, and one which seems to fit in a constellation of considerations now on the bog, including ambiguity, intention, reading/misreading, personality etc. I don’t have the experience of someone misinterpreting something of mine to the point of misuse, let’s say. I am certain that some people here find my “psychological/body-orientated” takes on haiku just plain rubbish and maybe a misuse of their poems.
    I don’t think poetry is about clarity unless it is the clarity through which one sees oneself and the world. But oneself is a subtle, shifting creature. I hope to write a poem as clear as a hummingbird—though I think when they fly, they get kind of blurry.

    Another question inherent in John’s post is: do I have something in mind when I write?
    I’ll think about it.

    I’ll be back.

  38. Though my takes on the opening poems also differed from Paul’s (and others’ interpretations as well), some of the responses, even if not intended to be harsh, felt a bit over-reactive, and accumulative.

  39. The online Moby Thesaurus II (Brad. Y. Ward) lists among its many synonyms for “odd” (and I quote only from letter A to halfway through the D’s): abnormal, absurd, bereft of reason, brainsick, crackbrained, crazy, daft, deluded, demented, deprived of reason, deranged, and deviant.

    Lately it has been applied to my Headset 3 post by two responders, one of them in separate posts, the first person objecting to my having associated the word Christmas in his poem with retributive justice, and by the other person because I associated a graveyard angel statue pointing at the “empty sky” with an angry mood.

    In both cases I am drawing upon widely-familiar cultural streams, the first literary, e.g. Dickens “A Christmas Carol,” which is aired annually in late December, and the song “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” The other stream is psychological, e.g. Kubler Ross’ sequence of reactions to bereavement, the second of which is listed as anger.

    Perhaps its an instance of retributive justice to imply a psychologist is nuts, but I feel I must respond to the Odd Squad: if this be madness make what you can of it.

    I plan to devote Headsets 4 (late summer) to a discussion of the many responses to #3.

  40. “In response to your question, John, I think we’d all agree that it’s the nature of this poetry for readers to interpret each haiku in his or her own way. However, I do think there are limits. In other words, it’s not all good.” –Michael W.

    John, an interesting topic, and my feelings run similar to Michael’s. Some commentaries are invaluable at bringing out things in a poem I hadn’t seen or considered before. Others read as wide-of-the-mark misinterpretations. And then there some that are over the top. But then, my interpretations are sometimes over the top : ) It’s partly the nature of commentary to embellish our views, partly how we respond to, and interact with, poems we love, or hate.

    The issue of ambiguity might even deserve a topic of it’s own. Yes, it can sometimes deepen a poem, or conversely render one undecipherable. But as I’m often tempted to point out, ambiguity is not the ultimate measure of good haiku that some of the commentaries make it out to be.

    No doubt our personality temperaments strongly tie into these issues. Ambiguity, for instance, may have stronger appeal for some, clarity for others. I appreciate both, when put in the service of the experience at hand, but wanting and finding ambiguity in every word of every poem, not so much.

  41. Thanks, Michael, for getting this started. I share many of your thoughts on this. In general, it doesn’t concern me if a reading goes in a very different direction. But this can get truly unpleasant when someone uses one of my poems to press some kind of an agenda, even when I’m sympathetic to said agenda. By “agenda” I don’t mean so much an aesthetic point as something that overlaps and potentially overwhelms the poetry – a social, political, or religious agenda.

    BTW I’ve been familiar with your poem for years. You used it on a note card that I still have. The second I read it I pictured my childhood desk drawer, before which I sat and wrote almost daily for about six years before leaving home. And I remember looking at that empty drawer on a visit home, a few years later. Paul Watsky is correct in indentifying “empty” as the weight bearing word, just as you meant it to be, having given over the third line to the one word. Beyond that, of course, I understand your desire to clarify what was and was not intended.

  42. In response to your question, John, I think we’d all agree that it’s the nature of this poetry for readers to interpret each haiku in his or her own way. However, I do think there are limits. In other words, it’s not all good. Considering my haiku about the empty desk drawer, obviously, if your parent had thrown out all of your belongings without permission, you’d bring a different perspective to it than in it was emptied for some other reason. But even still, it’s important to realize that you bring just one perspective to the poem, not the only one. In my poem, thinking of punishment or retribution or even a Christmas stocking seems way too far out there, and doesn’t seem to be sufficiently based on the poem itself. Or, if those meanings occur to you, they should (I hope) occur to you only in the context of other primary meanings. As I said before, I thought Paul’s interpretation of my poem was rather odd, and certainly not the way the great majority of people have interpreted that poem over the years.

    I have heard some people write and talk about the virtue of ambiguity in haiku, allowing all sorts of interpretations — that’s it’s okay for people to get what they like out of any haiku. I think this approach has limited value. The carefully crafted haiku will point you in a particular direction, and one art of writing haiku is to figure out how much precision will work best for each particular poem. Sometimes too much precision (and elimination of ambiguity) will exclude most of your possible audience, and the poem will connect with very few people, if any. And too little precision (too much ambiguity) will make a poem so general and vague that it fails for those reasons — and will fail to connect well with an audience. I appreciate that readers will sometimes see good things in a poem that the poet might not have even been aware of, and that’s great, but I do also think it’s possible to misread a poem. With all due respect, Paul, it feels like you’ve misread my poem by your references to punishment, retribution, and Christmas stockings, especially the Christmas stocking. My intent is certainly vastly different, and the vast bulk of readers have read the poem very differently — and as I intended.


  43. Several of the posts relating to this “Headset” raise a question that I would enjoy exploring with others – if not under this heading, perhaps as a “Sailing?”

    How do you (poets) feel when readers interpret your poem in a way that is very different from what you had in mind when writing? Is it “all good?” If not, what are some of the elements of active readership that raise concerns for you?

  44. Winter burial:
a stone angel points his hand
at the empty sky

    I find that Watsky’s interpretation of Anman’s haiku
    is odd. He writes that “The sky’s emptiness powerfully refutes and rebukes what the angel presumes to represent, and depending on our belief systems, some of us will feel angry along with the poet, others, at the poet.”

    Well, that may be true of some, but why anger “depending on our belief system” and why does he assume that the poet is angry? I see the raw emotion of hopelessness in this haiku. This is about death. No matter how politically polarized the climate has become from the late 20th century, I imagine that most people first react to death and sorrow in similar ways.

    In this haiku, I see the bleakness and emptiness of someone who is overcome by the loss of a loved one. I think such a reaction would be understood by readers no matter what philosophical or religious beliefs or whether they believe in the after life or not. When experiencing the death of a loved one, it is common to feel momentarily abandoned by God or personal circumstances. Shock and sorrow come first, anger within or without comes afterwards.

    I think this haiku succeeds in showing the raw emotion of hopelessness in the face of death (with or without anger). If the reader responds to in anger, it says something about the reader, not the haiku itself.

  45. Not your fault, Tom. I’m awfully embarressed. It makes me so aware of how I probably twist so many of the experiences I have in the world. Thank you for clearing it all up. It makes me feel much better.

  46. Jack, Jack, I’m NOT responding to anything YOU wrote! I’m responding to the introductory piece for this Headset. Very sorry for the confusion!

  47. Paul Watsky’s interpretation of Michael’s home for Christmas haiku was not mine at all. Perhaps the poet emptied the drawer himself when he left home (as I did) or perhaps he left a few odds and ends lying around, things of no more value to him. Whether he finds the drawer empty for the first time or merely confirms that it is empty, it is a moment of awareness that this is no longer his home; that he has moved on and there is a sense of sadness for a part of his life that is over. The fact that it is Christmas, a family time, adds to this sadness, pointing out how families are dispersed and are united only on special occasions.


  48. And further, okay, Tom, I see it was Watsky that was discussing post-medieval humanism as a definition of who we are.
    Geez, I’m sorry. I just didn’t take what he was saying to heart. I just went to the heart of the matter as I saw it, individual instances of haiku using the word empty,and had my say about it (not to mention some of my personal traumas at the hands of my mother.
    I’m completely chagrined.
    Do please accept my heartfelt apology.

  49. Oh, okay, Tom. Now I see Watsky’s words decrying faith,hope,and charity in relationship to art. No, of course, I don’t believe this. English language art is grounded in these concepts and you note a few of the greater examples.

  50. Well, I apologize then, Tom.
    No, I’m afraid I’m a bit slow, Tom, no kidding. I’m on a number of medications for a number of psychiatric illnesses and so while I haven’t lost my intelligence, I certainly do often take things wrongly.
    It’s funny, but where I had to go (as I mentioned in an earlier post) was to an appointment with my psychiatrist. I even discussed some of the things you had said that I thought were directed at me and started to cry. I’ll admit, i told him it wasn’t you and your words, but it was my overall sense of being in danger in the world, of always feeling that I will be harmed that caused me to cry.
    I don’t want to embarrass you by being too personal, but you would not believe the cruelty I have endured in my life and how ill it has made me.
    Then, the psychiatrist tells me that people are warm and friendly, and I take it that I’m just paranoid (actually).
    Then, I come home and Carlos Colon emailed me that he accepted five of my haiku and then I see Paul MacNeil has changed the subject and offered a fine and generous reading of a haiku, and I though, my God, I am misinterpreting, I do have a very weak sense of reality testing, and then Boom! I think you are attacking me.
    I’m truly sorry for the misunderstanding. I even, before I went out, had a look at your blog and found it very interesting and couldn’t figure out why you would be hostile towards me.
    I was wrong and I’m a bit off and I truly beg your pardon.

  51. Geez, Jack, I wasn’t talking about your post! I was talking about Paul Watsky’s introductory piece! I’m sure you’ve figured that out by now.

  52. I honestly don’t know what you are talking about, Tom. Where did I say that faith, hope and charity don’t transpose well from the ethico-religious to the aesthetic?
    I mean I really don’t know how you understood what I said.
    Please quote me so I understand what you find hostile in my remarks and where I said what you suggest I said?
    And, even if I had said what you think I did, which I did not, why would a counter-example be deluded? Would it not be possible to hold this view (which I don’t) without being deluded and without authority to support me,etc.?
    I mean what was it exactly I said that allows you to think that you have a right, some moral imperative,to vent your aggression at me?
    Please enlighten me as to my sin.

  53. Is it “hostile” to write on the assumption that: faith, hope, and charity don’t transpose well from the ethico-religious to the aesthetic register

    really? Who says? Can you at least mention a deluded counter-example? Perhaps from George Herbert? Shakespeare? How about, nearer to home, Wendell Berry?

  54. By the way, Paul, I think you are a good man: solid, decent, generous, thoughtful, not quick to anger, and willing to listen to others while also willing to express who you are. It’s a pleasure knowing you.

  55. A very good poem and a very good reading of it, Paul. And, yes, there is something special in the dented pan that does invoke sabi-wabi, if you will. I particularly like the way you find consonance between the slicing and the howling: it does well join the halves (apples) of the two-part verse.

  56. I find useful Paul W.’s exploration of the difficulty, perhaps rarity, of words that directly evoke wabi-sabi. In English, at least.

    I agree with Michael about his “empty drawer” haiku. Don’t see in it what Paul W. did. While I am neither a Christian nor a Buddhist, I feel the pull of family in the Christmas setting, a warmness. Reunion. Michael might be returning from college or after a long absence, yet, I draw a sort of annual return from this construction as if an unspoken “again” follows “home.” It is all in the eye or ear of the reader/listener. After you publish and share it, Michael, it is not yours in that respect.

    Let me throw another ELHaiku into the mix … one that evokes sabi-wabi for me from one word. Filling the empty . . . For the last paragraphs, I did not use the words directly in my Commentary but did deliberately use “patina.” From the late, dear, Claire …
    – Paul (MacNeil)

  57. I am glad, though,that Dr. Watsky’s blog has at least generated some aggression, some Jungian shadow, some snarling and teeth baring in the words you choose and how you aim them. At least, some real emotion is generated by the site.
    And, as Dr. Watsky is a Jungian analyst, I have to say that my way of looking at things has much more in common with Jung (having read the collected works nearly 40 years ago), than it does with positivism, or Stephen Pinker. I do rather like the ideaof memes, though,and selfish genes.
    Anyway, I have to go now.I look forward to more of your intellect in the service of your hostility.

  58. I’m at a loss, perhaps by your choice of term post-medieval humanist. This is not what I was suggesting, although I suppose I could define myself that way.
    What I was suggesting, and I have to be brief, since I have to go, is that haiku/hokku always utilized long-standing cultural allusion for its depth. Basho’s Narrow Road is a good example. He visited places in the journal that were of immense importance to the cultural memory of the Japanese and his poems used allusions to the associations these places evoked, in himself and a wider audience. They were interior and exterior places.
    And, I don’t know what you mean by cultural cliches. What cultural cliches are you referring to and how does haiku deconstruct these codes? I rarely, if ever, see such deliberate consciousness used in what is traditionally written in English language haiku.

  59. I should add to the list of required reading Marilynne Robinson’s new “Absence of Mind.” Her reconstruction of the person/self/mind is quite in line with what traditional haiku criticism takes for granted, the person as “deeply pensive solitude.” Wabi anyone? Which is not to say there should not be a “non-traditional” or modernist criticism for haiku conceived in the ethos of positivism, Stephen Pinker, memes, selfish genes, etc etc etc.

  60. The historical introduction to this essay needs work. “We” are not necessarily post-medieval humanists. That’s a choice one can make or not make. There are alternatives. The historical problem is real, however, and needs careful attention. One writer who has mastered the historical issues for Anglophone writers and readers is Frank Kermode. Haiku criticism should not be based on cultural cliches which haiku very often deconstruct anyway.

  61. Having said the above, I would not want to be misunderstood; I do not mean that the poems are without charm, or meaning, or “bad.” In fact, I can think of one poem written in this style that has stayed with me for ten years and will probably always stay with me. I cannot credit the author, a Japanese woman, because I no longer own her book: but I credit her with my memory of her excellence in her craft.

    A May night-
    even after dark
    the clouds are white

    For me, this poem will always be emblematic of May.

    However, I think that the reliance on an “objective” haiku, that is, the use of nouns and words that point to things to be assembled so as to evoke the feeling the constellation of these things produced in the writer is transferred to the reader is much better served in longer works. It was for us Joseph Conrad and Henry James who eludicated the idea of dramatic showing rather than telling in a work of art as an aesthetic criteria. And, around the same time we got Elliott’s “objective correlative,” as a way for an image-cluster to evoke the thoughts, emotions, wanted in a poem.
    But, even the works of these authors-think of Joyce, Pound-were mytho-poetic, that is, they relied on a shared literary heritage, a cultural memory, a collective unconscious, if you will, for much of their power. They did not merely rely on words of things and depictions of sensations to convey meaning.
    I think all the poems cited in this section work each in their way and each has some stock of cultural heritage within it, which is why they work. But, with the exception of Aman’s haiku, they do not possess a depth that reference to the whole Judeo-Christian heritage brings along with it.
    In my opinion, we tend to overwork words in haiku; we believe that a few words will evoke a wide and deep range of feeling that a few words generally cannot achieve. Perhaps, that is the challenge, but I don’t think it was the intention of Japanese haiku poets.
    So, I think the framework, perhaps, of Dr. Watsky’s Headset may be too minimal to begin with to generate a very deep psychoanalytical dynamic. The word “empty,” at least as a literary term in the history of American haiku, hasn’t a long and deep enough history to provide a locus for deep feeling and analysis.
    I could be wrong.

  62. A slight error in the last post: I meant, the mind does not understand what is not there.

  63. I like Merrill’s intuition that the haiku about empty cattle cars had oblique reference to the Holocaust. The same thought crossed my mind, but didn’t remain very long. And, the thought of the cattle that are sometimes in the cars are not there because they have been slaughtered also entered my mind, but again only passingly. I think this is because while words do evoke emotions and associations, the mind tends to understand what is there, generally what is not there. In other words, what always struck me as a strength of haiku was its ability to make present what it spoke of; its weakness was it lacked the ability to evoke and resonate with what was not there.
    At least,that has always been my feelings about haiku that are pictures of a moment. They succeed in evoking what is there, but fail to give a greater frame of reference to what is presented.
    So, while the haiku that speaks of cattle cars momentarily made me think of the Holocaust, the fact that cattle cars was acting more as a modifier of a type of train car and not as a symbol of anything else, the association vanished.
    Had the poet wanted to evoke the Holocaust, then something like placement would have made all the difference; say “a train in Poland,” or a “train in Germany,” would have altered the poem and given it a social context that would have broadened it.
    Of course, that was not the poet’s intention, so the poem is not missing anything; for me it is, though, and that’s why poems written in the haiku-moment style are often, in my opinion, shallow and flat.

  64. I have experienced coming back to may parent’s home and finding my old desk drawers emtpied. It was a shock, a small trauma, of its kind. It wasn’t so much the importance of the contents that had been removed; it was the fact that they were mine, they had once had a place in their earlier home, and the objects would have been needed evidence that I existed there once and still existed there by signs-even though I now existed someplace else.
    My mother had not consulted with me about throwing away objects from my past; she simply took it upon herself to declare, in a symbolic way, that once I was not “there or theirs,” once I had “abandoned” her, she had a right to rid herself of anything remotely associated with me. It shocked me because I took it as a symbolic murder of myself.
    Of course, every family is different and our associations to them and their actions are individual. But, I knew my feelings about the episode were right because years before my mother had taken it upon herself to throw away the family photo albums, years of photographs that captured the family history for decades. She was a vindictive woman, cruel often, and when someone, in her mind betrayed her, she took vindictive action against them-even if it meant throwing away the whole family and its documented history.
    When my father died, she immediately threw away every single sign of him, all his clothes, in a matter of days, so it seemed as if he had never existed.
    So, when I read the poem about the childhood desk being empty, I read it not as retributive justice, but more as mere retribution. Of course, this is a result of my own family history.
    So, I don’t find the offered interpretation at all odd. I find it actually too rational, too unaware of the rage that sometimes exists in parents when they “lose” ownership of their children.

  65. In response to Paul’s comments on Michael’s Xmas haiku, and the latter’s response…

    My own response to:

    home for Christmas:
    my childhood desk drawer

    was more or less in line with Michael’s intention and interpretation. There wasn’t any ‘retributive justice’ for me, and the reading did surprise me.

    But we can’t get away from what we bring as individuals to poems. And while Xmas for me, Michael, and perhaps a lot of other people, only works as a qualifying aspect of the visit home, other people will have different, specific and, for them, more significant responses to the event.

    For me, ‘home’ is the stronger symbol. What ‘Xmas’ adds is a touch of warmth, family celebration, which works effectively against the implied coldness of ’empty’. I like how these two ideas bounce off each other and give me a lot to think about. Whereas:

    my childhood desk drawer

    feels more bleak, as here ‘home’, positioned on a line of its own, encourages me to think of ‘aloneness’, perhaps even ‘isolation’. And, for me, the haiku is less expansive.

  66. I experienced Michael’s feelings… right thesame way. Not in relation with my “old” things, though ; with my grandparents’ ones, when their house was emptied ; my mother and her sister left many things, refused them as being of an other world, unuseful to them, another time… To me, therewere plenty of little things that had been my joy when a child or teen-ager. Being quite often on holidayswith my grand-parents, their objects, little things of nothing had for me a… soul, a preciosity. Not only had I grown with them on holidays, but had learnt the use of this and that with my grand-mother. The clock on the chimney, for instance… At all comings on holidays, the first thing I shared with grand-ma had been to turn the needles? of the clock to have it chime, which was crystal like. It ws a special moment between her and I… A communion. On their buffet, on the credence, grand-ma had explained what were the two little dessert plates to her… Her daughters’ childhood plates… Everything there had a sugared note, a feeling, far beyond wabi & sabi. She used to wax her furniture thinking they would become her daughters. To me, it was treacherous to let the soul of the house go away. The empty house sw me run awy with some sparse objects collected here & there. I felt some emptiness, as if being stolen of part of my own past. Never had an idea of culpability, that was the brusque reality of being suddenly facing a truth you have never thought possible. Feelings maybe explosevely hard ; implicitely, a challenge, how to accept that what had been pure rejoycement in the previous years suddenly was finished… Nothing, exceptphotos to touch, to smell, the smell of wax, of waffles, of jam… Holocaust ? Yes, a soul holocaust ! Souvenirs remain into you, however, you, then, realize, you missed this or that.
    This is inside your self nd I’m not sure wabi-sabi can “qualify” these emotions. More personnal, probably.
    Would be interested in having returns to that. The force and weight left on you by grand-parents. Feel like saying :

    in the empty house
    nothing left but space
    empty space

    nostalgia is where
    you cannot find
    a cozy place

    As an empty house alien to you.

  67. I got the feeling from reading Michael’s poem of a lost childhood… coming home for Christmas and finding his childhood treasures had long since been cleared away.

  68. When I read George Swede’s haiku, I can’t help the reference connection of the “cattle cars” with the Holocaust… and perhaps contains more emotional impact in that connection. It would be interesting to me to know if that had anything to do with the motive for the haiku.

  69. I appreciate much of what you have to say here, and I thank you for quoting my poem and saying appreciative things about it. However, your reading of my “home for Christmas” poem strikes me as odd. You say “the poem steers us towards themes of retributive justice by means of the distinctly occidental allusion to an empty Xmas stocking.” There’s ZERO retributive justice in the poem, and nothing could have been further from my mind. It’s certainly not intended, and I don’t see how it could be implied, either. Also, the poem has NOTHING to do with stockings, empty or otherwise. The poem is simply about visiting home, and seeing my old desk in one of the bedrooms. When I open one of the desk drawers, I am drawn into the fact that it is empty — profoundly empty. (In fact, I remember seeing old pencil or crayon markings in the wood, a pale pine of some kind.) Just as I no longer live there, so too the drawer itself is empty of me. Retribution is utterly not what this poem is about. Rather, it is about nostalgia, or realizing that I’ve grown up and left home, all embodied or symbolized by the left-behind desk and the wabi-sabi of its emptiness (and yes, I believe it’s still got a wabi-sabi feeling to it, and Christmas does not nullify that). I make no such implication that I experience “whatever caused the drawer to become empty as a punishment.” This verse has nothing whatsoever to do with punishment. Surely I’m not alone in thinking your interpretation is odd? I believe you’re reading too much into the poem — and also reading something into the poem that isn’t even implied.


  70. “not empty space,rather, a space of potentiality”

    I love these Zen paradoxes,

    the thundering silence
    the full emptiness
    the moment of eternity
    the wordless poem

    any more ?


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