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Periplum #10

Periplum is a section that is devoted to 20th and 21st century haiku from around the world

Periplum #10: Slavko Sedlar

BY David G. Lanoue

The word “suchness” evokes, in the lexicon of Zen Buddhism, a vivid perceiving of the here-and-now reality of a thing—not thoughts about a thing but the thing itself, just the way it is: palpable, unembellished and undefined. “Suchness” hints of a deeper reality than what we normally “see,” since we normally don’t really see things at all. We see the labels of things. We classify and organize raw sensation so that we don’t really see the poplar tree; our minds quickly categorize such-and-such a shape as a “poplar” based on a certain visual pattern and then, content with our categorizing, we move on. We never saw it at all.

But if we open ourselves to the suchness of things, a different kind of seeing—true seeing—becomes possible. Letting go of labels and the urge to classify and to categorize, we meet this particular tree in this particular moment, and a marvelous thing happens. You might call it a little miracle. The color and patterns of the leaves, the texture and grain of the bark, its smell, the sound of wind rustling, the warmth or coolness of the trunk—suddenly the tree, this tree, is drawing us deeply into an encounter that many of us can go our whole lives without ever experiencing. We see the poplar!

A bilingual Serbian-English collection of Slavko Sedlar’s haiku has just been published. With English translations by Saša Važić, the book bears the title, T A К В О С Т 2 (SUCHNESS 2), a sequel to Sedlar’s T A К В О С Т (SUCHNESS). These titles are perfectly chosen. The poet, Slavko Sedlar, has made it his business to open himself to the magic of the ordinary, the miraculous power of unclouded vision. He indeed perceives the suchness of things, and he invites us to share in the joy of this. An ordinary moment of ordinary life, if we attend to it with open eyes and open heart, can shock and delight. Let’s consider some examples from SUCHNESS 2:

Док чека бетон
Мешалица меша воду
И парчад Сунца

Waiting for concrete
a mixer mixes water
with pieces of the sun

Most people who mix concrete don’t see beauty or poetry in their labor. Most of them, like most of us, don’t see the world at all. And yet, if we let Sedlar guide us, we can learn a new way to perceive. The ordinary moment becomes magical partly because we so seldomly take the time to attend to it, but there’s more going on here. When we stop, look and listen, we perceive the here-and-now the way it really is, and that thing which it really is—its suchness—is, in fact, a pure miracle. Even while we sit around waiting for concrete to become what it will become, water mixes with “pieces of the sun” in a primal, creative swirl: the same swirl of galaxies and subatomic particles. The English poet William Blake proposed that we “see the world in a grain of sand.” How many of us ever open our senses and minds wide enough to accomplish this? Sedlar does so on a daily basis.

Because he keeps himself open to the suchness of the here and now, he at times achieves epiphanies so transformative that what we thought of as real can seem suddenly unreal or—perhaps, a better word—surreal.

А дође с плаже
Мој глас постаде цвркут
Два папагаја

The moment I returned
from the beach — my voice becomes
the chirp of two parrots

A voice becoming the “chirp of two parrots” can seem a wild flight of fancy, but perhaps we should not rush to this conclusion. Perhaps, we should acknowledge that, in a moment of acute perception, the poet has returned from the beach and, in reality, experiences his voice becoming the voices of two parrots. What appears impossible in the external world can ring with psychological truth. The body takes a journey from beach to home, and the mind is not the same. A day of communing with the sea—perhaps swimming in it, perhaps simply watching its undulating waves, the suchness of the undulation—has profoundly changed, well, everything. As he walks in the door, are two parrots in a cage singing the story of what he has gained and felt today with perfect precision, with their wild, raucous voices? Or, perhaps, has the poet opened his own mouth to say something and discovered, by truly listening to it, his voice sounds different, for it has become the chirping of two parrots? The haiku is more powerful if we read it as not fancy, not a flight of pretending. There is no pretending here. This moment of life, along with all the moments chronicled in Sedlar’s collection, grow from honest, radical perception. I take the poet at his word. His voice is the chirping of two parrots. The ordinary moment is ordinary only to those who don’t really perceive it. Miracles happen all the time.

Seeing into suchness is a lifestyle choice: a daily discipline without which Sedlar’s haiku would be impossible. So much goes unnoticed in life, it takes real effort and real commitment to see and appreciate things and their connections.

На старчев осмех
Режи пас – обојици
Беле се зуби

A dog growls
at an old man’s smile:
both their teeth are white

Again the poet’s method is simplicity itself: to stop and see, and in so doing discover, again, a usually-overlooked suchness. There are juxtapositions and conflicts in the moment: a dog against a man, a growl against a smile—and yet the poet looks long and deeply enough to perceive a unifying sameness: “both their teeth are white.” Such a plain, blunt statement—and yet, if we ponder it a while, this statement can lead to a flash of enlightenment: an instant satori. The dog and man are connected. The dog and man are the same. The dog and man are one. There is no dog; there is no man. There are only white teeth framing growls or smiles.

Perhaps the most appealing haiku in this collection are those in which the poet discovers and celebrates the life of his fellow beings: people, animals, plants. When Slavko Sedlar sees a poplar tree, he really sees it—with wide-open eyes and, even more importantly, a wide-open heart.

Садео сено:
Сада топола спремно
Чека зимски сан

Piled hay:
now the poplar is ready
for winter dreams

Notes

Much of the above is taken from my introductory essay to T A К В О С Т 2 (SUCHNESS 2), titled “Such Suchness!” Copies of the book are available for $20 (U.S.) plus postage; contact Saša Važić at vazicsasa@gmail.com.

Blake, William. “Auguries of Innocence.” Accessed March 21, 2010. Web. https://www.artofeurope.com/blake/bla3.htm

The poem begins:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand

And Eternity in an hour.

Sedlar, Slavko. T A К В О С Т (SUCHNESS). Belgrade: The Municipal Library Vršac, 2008.

—–. T A К В О С Т 2 (SUCHNESS 2). Belgrade: Saša Važić, 2010.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….
Periplum: Introduction
Periplum #1: Keiji Minato
Periplum #2: Petar Tchouhov
Periplum #3: Masahiro Koike
Periplum #4: Fay Aoyagi
Periplum #5: Jean-Pierre Colleu
Periplum #6: Casimiro de Brito
Periplum #7: Saša Važić
Periplum #8: Ami Tanaka
Periplum #9: Chie Aiko

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Yes, interpretations will often vary, Adelaide. When I read ‘a dog growls/ *at* an old man’s smile’, my instincts are to trust the dog’s instincts. Why would a dog growl at a smile? (rather than at the man, for instance) We have to trust the words in the poem (or the translation, in this case)

    My question is perhaps answered in L3: both their teeth are white.

    On the one hand, this might simply mean what it says: the dog has only one tooth left and so does the old man. This might’ve been what amused the old man in the first place, finding a connection between himself and an old dog.

    On the other hand, and considering that the translation, by David, would be in U.S. English, ‘both their teeth are white’ might mean that both the dog and the old man have white teeth (more than one each). Considering that this is Serbia, I doubt that the old man has had his teeth whitened. What, then? Could be that the old man has a new set of dentures and deliberately smiles at the dog, which he’s known for some time, and the dog notices the change. The change from a near toothless old man to one with a new set of fangs might change the power relationship between these two.

    Or could be simply that the dog senses something false about the old man’s smile. 🙂 (‘false teeth’ used to be a synonym for ‘dentures’ in colloquial English. I was taught not to say ‘false teeth’ by someone who corrected me by telling me his dentures weren’t false teeth, and would I like to find out by being bitten by them? )

  2. A dog growls
    at an old man’s smile:
    both their teeth are white

    My mind moves in quirky ways sometimes, and I read this differently. Why white teeth and not simply teeth? The “white” makes me think that the old man, who would normally have stained teeth, had his teeth whitened. The dog is a young dog whose teeth are still white. So, the old man, proud of his teeth, smiles and the dog,being a young dog and frisky, shows who is in charge.

    The old man’s smile also shows that he is content with his age and has nothing to prove, whereas the young dog is still testing his doggyness.

    This strikes me as more of a senryu than a haiku.

    I have different interpretations for the others, as well, but I’ll save them for another time.

    Adelaide

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