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Montage #18


Montage #18, presented by Allan Burns, is now up here on The Haiku Foundation website. This week’s theme is “Transience” and features the work of Issa 一茶 (born Kobayashi Yataro 小林弥太郎), Charles B. Dickson & John Brandi.

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  1. Peter, Thanks so much for that comment, “if they are ‘about’ experience, they don’t work…” That’s exactly why I have so much trouble wrestling with words! How do they actually “hold” the experience????? Will I ever understand it???

  2. Following Paul’s comments. There is so much richness on this site, not least comments like Paul’s, that I really am a-swirl. I can’t keep up, but of course, I don’t need to. It is a pleasure to come across, on my all-too-frequent visits to the blog, poet’s and reader’s contributions. I want to echo another poster and encourage others to contribute—do I have to name names? “I want! I want!” said Blake.

    Mostly I’m glad you’ve honored Allan, Paul. He and Scott (and Jim behind the scenes) are giving a great deal of their time and energy. (Of course they’re loving it too—can’t you hear the twinkle in their cyber-voices?)

    In reading the blog in all its manifestations, I’m tuning in to questions that are naturally arising. Allan and I have spoken about sometimes coordinating a Montage theme with a question for Sails. Certainly *transience* is a wonderful theme. Maybe it it will come up under Sails, or maybe people will take it up right here.

    My sense of haiku is transient, that is, it is changing all the time. When I say “haiku” I mean considerations around subjectivity/objectivity, around what experience is, what perception is, what language is, what self is. I would consider these things anyway, but haiku gives me some focus, and I hope if I write a few things that “work” they work as experience, not as position, or promotion. Even the “philosophy” that everything is transient can be an evasion of the experience of transience, and though one may take comfort in spiritual beliefs, (I probably do) one is nonetheless left, sooner or later, with the nakedness of experience itself. Some haiku are experience itself. For me, if they are “about” experience, they don’t work.

    My model in some of this is the ocean—a big bully to be sure, but a marvelous poet, moment by moment dropping shells, spume, wrack, plastic six-pack rings, boots, changing all the time and staying the same all the time. You want to admire a shell, go ahead. You want to take it home and keep it forever, go ahead, the ocean is off somewhere else sending impossibly intricate messages to the heavens. “I want, I want” –accompanied by a painting (or engraving) of a man at the base of a ladder to the moon.

  3. Another wonderful selection by Allan.

    It is interesting to see what he selects for his unifying subject or topic. Because we have discussed it, he and I, he knows that I have no inclination toward Buddhism. He does. I do not know what “transience” means within the constructs of this practice. But, I do know the definition and how it may apply to haiku. Most, not all, haiku are about transient things, even transient events. Haiku may ripple as we share them. In the Dickson selection column is one whose moment of awareness is transient, a flash in insight, but whose subject is about the passage of time, lots of it. It also happens to be quite a unique haiku:

    motionless in stone
    for forty thousand years
    a bird wing

    a frozen moment from the skeleton’s point of view, probably only the impression made by a skeleton. An instant to the poet and to this reader.

    Many of the Issa may be philosophic, musings that might be about his religion. But his verse directly about a Buddha statue (I assume the huge one at Nara) is on its surface the twinkle of Issa’s humor:

    From the Great Buddha’s
    great nose, a swallow comes
    gliding out

    Of course I see the humility of it, that the notion of a statue is “puffed up” and to some believers may be a showing of too much. Hence it is brought down a peg by Issa’s swallow. I also know that there is probably a lot more symbolsm of which I am ignorant — and Allan may not be. My old paternal grandmother used to quote an equally old aphorism — “A cat can look at a king.” Buson, was it, has the butterfly on the temple bell.

    Transience means differently to different readers.

    I also notice several that are themes used by other haiku poets. No implication of copying or even Michael Welch’s notion of “deja ku.”

    There are haiku, one of mine too, about trout holding in the current, facing up, and Dickson’s:

    time-smoothed footlog
    motionless school of minnows
    pointed upstream

    WHAT a wordsmith: “time-smoothed footlog”!

    by Brandi:

    autumn dusk
    a bobbing branch
    where the crow has flown

    This seems an homage to Basho’s crow/withered branch, but is also an observation by a number of other poets — the branch moving after the bird’s flight. I have an unpublished one with an eagle (I’ll withhold for someday, someday it might get published). paul m in the about-to-be-published The Onawa Poems has:

    last night
    a branch swaying
    long after the chickadee has left

    Jim Kacian in Six Directions:

    calm morning
    a cedar bough springs up
    from crowlessness

    after the rain
    bomb craters filled
    with stars

    This is almost in the pit of a pet peeve of mine … and yet, it is unique. Every poet, it seems, beginner and experienced, has a reflection of the heavens (moon or stars) in: name your surface or container of liquid — abandoned well, puddle, hands cupped with water … even the bass pick bugs from the moon. But these are bomb craters, and I want to read it over again.

    in the mirror
    the old man I was afraid of
    as a child

    Oh my, another pet peeve — so many poets have looked in the mirror and seen mother, grandmother, father ,etc. Yet — this is unique — because of the fear.

    I have digressed away from Allan’s Transience, but that is what good haiku, and a good selection of them do — see others’ comments at the new Sails, too. I do not know enough to see as he sees. But good haiku are easy enough to see.

    – Paul (MacNeil)

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