Skip to content

Viral 5.3

It seems appropriate that this Viral, selected and commented on by Yu Chang, follow Viral 4.3 and Periplum #3, both of which accumulated such great discussions and so many interesting thoughts and readings. One of the key questions it seems that was being alluded to but not being addressed head-on was this: what is Nature? How do we define it?

It seems that because our definition of Nature is expanding to include us (humans) and our inventions—that human nature is indeed part of Nature and vice versa and not separate or divided from it—our definitions of haiku and senryu, and what they can be (and what they are capable of doing), must expand as well. The lines become blurred, as they should. Isn’t this a good thing, and a natural trajectory for haiku and senryu as they become more global? Kigo (season words) become less vital and exclusive, and more work that employs season-less, universal words (muki-kigo) become prevalent—the human nature of Nature becoming more central, more accented. Is this subjectivity, or a new objectivity?

This Viral (5.3) seems to be yet another example of this kind of artistic progression: a seasonless poem where human nature-consciousness-emotions and something physically perceived outside it are spiraling around one another, pushing and pulling, with deep connections that go all the way back to the origins of humankind (“Where there are rocks, watch out!” -Alan Watts). In many ways, the seasonless poem goes deeper than seasons, and, with the openness they create, require the reader to go deeper as well. You the reader, bringing your life experiences and imagination in tow, are allowed to come in contact with a world the seasonless poem creates more openly, with more freedom, and are given the chance to create your own season for it, or however the poem works through you. It’s a collaborative workout. What season does it leave you in and with, and why? Take a look. And watch out.
Virals is a section in which one person choses a haiku by another person and comments on that haiku. Then the author of that haiku is invited to select a haiku by someone else and comment on that poem, and so on. For an introduction to this section, see Virals.

                                                                    • Viral 5.1 (Metz ➾ Lyles)
                                                                    • Viral 5.2 (Lyles ➾ Chang)

Some     by Yu Chang


                            a deep gorge . . .
                          some of the silence
                               is me

                                                  — John Stevenson

Franz Kline

“Ah, the color gray . . . a lonely man, in a deep gorge under a misty sky, not even a crow in sight.” That’s the picture I painted right after the first read. I find it curiously satisfying. Much later, after a closer read, I was delighted to find another portrait for the poet – centered, humble, and at peace with his surroundings.

The sense of elation has stayed with me since I first read this lyrical, and evocative poem. The gentle pull of the understated first line “a deep gorge . . .” sets the scene, and the invitation for the reader to join in is put forth in the second and third lines. The poem succeeds effortlessly, without raising a single decibel.

On a bridge in Ithaca, I caught a glimpse of the gorge after our (Route 9 Haiku Group) poetry reading at Cornell’s Mann Library to celebrate the 2006 Poetry Month. It’s like any other gorge just deep enough to rattle me out of my complacency.

A man on a bridge looking down into a gorge is a common scene, but a poet with an open mind has found a poem. Like my composer friend, Hilary Tann, says, “Composing music is making the commonplace incandescent.”

What was in the poet’s mind when he wrote the poem? Could it be that he just wrote it down with nothing particular in his mind? It really doesn’t matter. Each time I read the poem, I am thankful for the space and the freedom to let my imagination play a part.

The poem’s telescoping construct provides enough room between the first line “a deep gorge . . . ” and the third line “is me” to accommodate layers of unspoken emotions effectively juxtaposed in three short lines. Two concrete images, a man and a gorge, are brought together by silence, a word which could conjure up all sorts of sounds, from thunderous waterfalls to the faintest whisper of a wounded heart. A bridge is made, and the reader is invited to come in.

But what is the poet trying to tell me? A voiceless confession of some action/inaction in the past that gave rise to the formation of the gorge? The last two lines when read as a single sentence seem tinged with regret. Could this be a change of heart in the darkest hour of his life? Does he feel centered again and the poem is wide open? Could it be true that if we all open our hearts and talk to one another, the world would be a better place? We’ll never know. Maybe that’s why a poem like this is so tantalizing.

“deep gorge” was first published in Geppo (July/August 1996)

As featured poet, John Stevenson will select the next poem and provide commentary for Viral 5.4.

This Post Has 27 Comments

  1. Required viewing after hearing all this stuff about masters and giants and stuff. Just squeeze the little red lumpfish, and don’t worry, it won’t bite.

  2. I had thought the question of subjectivity would come up in Sailing #163, but the blog seems about 8 months pregnant with it, so we have to hoist that sail somewhat sooner to get this baby out of the amnion and over the sea. (Isn’t that a Cole Porter song?)

    I would like to say at this point, ” hold on, save it, don’t push yet, don’t push”, but that ain’t gonna happen is it?

  3. I think David makes an interesting point about the objective to subjective ‘line’ (for lack of a better word). Some poems we observe, and thus are on the more objective side of the scale/line. But a poem like John’s moves more toward the subjective as it hits deeper to him, and he is more personally engaged. In fact, I’m not sure you could write John’s poem with just objective facts. That said, I’d hate to see “haiku” at the far end of the subjective line. At that point the reader is only marginally engaged since they are told everything. A question to be asked is: how far can one dance along the line and still call it a haiku? Questions of how we define a haiku aside, I think as we’ve seen in these discussions it varies with each poet.

    Perhaps this is what Scott meant by his ‘progression’..? And in fact it isn’t seasonality but the poet’s engagement? Less external, more internal?

  4. Oh, Gabi! Excellent work on Tan Taigi. His other poems, your readable translations, and the art by Buson, are very welcome as you pull it together.

    With Gabi’s addition of the notion of “geta” and the picture of such a bridge on her website, I get a strong feeling of the bridge as musical instrument. A marimba or xylophone played by the hard wooden clogs. Each plank a slightly different note, as struck directly by the poet, and as it echoes up from the bottom of the bridge via the water and the side walls. This haiku shares the silence with John Stevenson’s, but is punctuated by footfalls. It is the silent space _between_ that brings about the haiku qualities of loneliness.

    I am reminded of another of John S’s haiku about silence — it later served as a book title for him (a must-own, by the way):

    snowy night
    sometimes you can’t be
    quiet enough

    John Stevenson
    The Heron’s Nest Vol.V,#2,2003

    I wrote about it in his Award commentary: “Sometimes the very presence of the haiku poet or another person changes what is being observed. The intrusion may be exquisitely painful. The kayak paddle makes a splash as it enters a lily-filled cove. A walk in autumn woods is interrupted by leaves so loud underfoot they seem to echo. The sound of a distant hammer, a jet ski, or an airplane makes a deer jump, a fish startle, or a dragonfly take off.

    “I easily recognize the writer’s emotional discomfort as he disturbs the snowy scene; I am drawn in by it. The quiet, and the sheer beauty of this night, should not be disturbed. The scrunch of new snow compressed under a booted foot; the car door shutting; the beep as the car locks; the poet’s breathing-all of these things are just too loud.”

    This haiku, too, may fall into the Category described by David Giacalone. It is well worth your time, as Peter has suggested, to click on David G’s name (in red) and read his well put-together treatise. I think David and I are not far apart if the parameters of “tell-ums” and “psy-ku” are stretched a bit… more flexible. It is a matter of focus. Is John’s “gorge” or his “snowy night” _about_ his conclusionary language, or about the very real basis in the actual, physical word? If all I see, just one observer of the haiku scene, makes me think of the mind of the poet, then I’m out of the sharing-of-experience mode and into thinking about thinking — distracted. As Allan shows us, the Old Masters, even through translation, often used a mix of philosophizing and the here and now of actual experience. Experience I can share as in “snowy night.” I can also share in the fact of insight. It is also in the here and now that John is suddenly aware of the silence of the gorge and his place in it. Beyond that, metaphor of haiku-as-a-whole can take over as it does for both types of haiku.

    As he is often wont to do, John S. treads the edges. And as it has been said, he does it so well. Sometimes behind his glasses there is a twinkle of amusement . . . I happen to agree with David G. about “dust devils” but, as above, I have a wider threshold for other, more complete, works. I have been with John for many, many inner verses of renku. “Dust devils” seems such a verse of a renku poem… but it lacks the other 11, 19, or 35 stanzas!

    After HNA, Ottawa, I expect John may comment (or not, as is his right). I’m not wild about deconstructing my own humble works in public. Others may, but what is written just is, and it doesn’t belong to me, or John, anymore. Readers/listeners get it or they don’t. I may be judged by _my_ effectiveness.

    a last ramble about effectiveness … it is profitable to read again the Commentary for this Viral by Yu Chang. It is interesting to see the poem through Yu’s eyes, a friend of John’s, and a Master haiku poet, himself.

    – Paul (MacNeil)

  5. Thanks to Gabi for that additional info about Taigi–very interesting. And thanks also to everyone who has responded.

    Christopher’s “foghorns” is a real favorite of mine. The double meaning of the final word (“sound”) is a brilliant stroke that pulls everything the poem presents–foghorn, water, kayak, “we”–into a larger whole.

    I do hope to see our conception of haiku move increasingly away from a limiting notion of “rules” and more toward a flexible conception of “norms” and “practices” that reflect the reality of what has been written in this genre and do not artificially constrain what poets feel they need to say. As Peter says: “passionate exploration”. Rules are for games. Renku is usually approached in this spirit–and that’s probably appropriate for this communal enterprise. But haiku is an artform and should be able to express anything we need it to. There are textbook notions of haiku, and then there is the real thing, a good bit messier and more interesting.

    Perhaps inevitably we will end up embracing the term Scott likes to use: “ku”. To some ears it might sound “cutesy” at first, but it is not just Western shorthand. It really is used by Japanese poets and provides a needed broader category that includes haiku, senryu, and zappai and everything that blurs the distinctions between them. The more I think about it, the more useful it seems.

    “To burn always with this hard, gem-like flame, to maintain this ecstasy, is success in life.”–Walter Pater

  6. Oh but I like rules! And laws! Like the laws of physics. Like gravity. How could we learn to fly without it?

  7. I want to enter this somewhat obliquely, by way of a poem in the current Montage and another from Montage #14.

    I wonder what readers make of Taiga’s poem:

    I walk over it alone
    In the cold moonlight—
    The sound of the bridge

    No doubt many readers will take “the sound of the bridge” to mean the sound of its being walked upon, and that what’s being walked over is a river, perhaps a gorge.

    For me what is intriguing and what deepens the poem is the sense that the bridge itself has a sound; or, that the bridge *is* a sound, which may be a stretch for some. You’ll have to tell me. This reading then includes the possibility that the “I” is walking over a sound. I think this does more than suit my imagination. I think it speaks to the intuition radiating out of “in the beginning was the word” and a sense that all things essentially, in their quantum immeasurable vibrations, *are* sound. This takes me to a deep subjectivity—not the subjectivity of an individual’s impenetrably closed circuit, but of a fundamental inwardness, a revelation of *what is* as *I am*. And this may include a whole lot of space.

    Perhaps the original poem would direct me away from this reading. I only know what’s on the page here, and what I see is staggering; the nexus to which I am drawn, of art, psychology and the sacred, is dizzyingly present.

    Here’s a poem by Christopher Herold which Allan included in Montage #14:


    we lower a kayak

    into the sound


    I have been pondering John Stevenson’s poem since it arrived as a Viral. I’ve known it for a long time, as many no doubt have. One of its strengths is that it makes me want to go on pondering. John, I believe, is familiar with Wallace Stevens, whose poems often embody a mental sensuality, or a sensuous mentality. “The shadows of the pears/Are blobs on the green cloth./The pears are not seen/ As the observer wills”. (Telling and showing both).

    At any rate, I believe “a deep gorge” juxtaposes the conceptualizing observer with (the thing) observed; abstract with concrete. He says: “*some* of the silence”– an observation of holding back from the enormity before him, which is, of course, very human. So he is observing the gorge *and* himself, and what interests me is the possibility that one can be aware of something like a gorge and also to one’s response to it, in a unified, if paradoxical way. And present it as a poem.

    I think the Taiga poem, or my reading of the translation at any rate, occurs in a similar outer/inner space, though the conceptual realm is either very subtle or absent. I believe Taiga’s may be the more realized poem. With Taiga’s I enter the mystery of the gorge; with Stevenson’s I stay on the edge and more in my mind. But I suspect that many people will relate strongly to staying on the edge as more human. Do we enter the question of haiku or senryu again?

    I would like to add that I think David Giacalone’s thoughts are valuable. I do not necessarily agree with the content or tone, but I respect them, and get the impression that he is defending something he considers precious. His views, which are probably shared by others like Clark Strand, though it’s been a while since I’ve looked at Mr. Strand’s work, may help some who do not share them to hone and clarify their own ideas, as Allan Burns has done. Giacalone will not prevent me from experimenting. One’s understanding of things like subjectivity, of showing not telling, of the uses or misuses of abstraction or the conceptual, of what an image is and can do, and of a huge range of approaches, techniques and considerations to be taken or not, is not well served by *following* rules, but by passionate exploration which may lead the artist to find out for him/herself what a given poem requires. I hope Mr. Giacalone realizes that poets, even haiku poets, do not necessarily experiment out of reactivity, but out of a genuine wish to “make it new”, or, to be a bit clever about it, out of a new wish to make it genuine.

  8. 寒月や我ひとり行く橋の音
    kangetsu ya
    ware hitori yuku hashi no oto


    I walk over it alone
    In the cold moonlight—
    The sound of the bridge

    The translation might be different, since the cut is right after cold moon in the first line …

    and my more free version would be

    moon in the cold …
    only my own footsteps
    on the bridge

    (kangetsu is a winter kigo, looking at the moon on a cold winter night)


  9. Thanks, Allan, That was well said. What is any poetry (haiku or any other kind of poetry) if it is not the use of language that allows the words to do more than abide quietly in the rules. There has got to be that cognitive leap or it will never cross the abyss of our unknowing.
    Sometimes, it seems to me that I use the rules to look at a poem that has failed to identify just where that leap is necessary….where you have to break the rules in order to sing.

  10. In response to a few remarks by David Giacolone:

    “within a few years of the English-language haiku community reaching the revolutionary consensus that the 5-7-5 format is unnecessary”

    There never was a consensus in elh that 5-7-5 was necessary. Harold Henderson is on record as being emphatically against it from the get-go. Blyth (as translator) and Kerouac did, thankfully, without it. In American Haiku many such as Virgilio with his famous “bass” and “lily” deviated from it. Few besides Hackett and Southard ever wrote well with much consistency in the form. And by the late 60s it was clear it was never, for all sorts of reasons, going to serve the purpose for major haiku in English. The vital direction, indicated decisively by poets such as John Wills, was toward greater concision and a concept of duration roughly equivalent to actual J haiku–which of course doesn’t always stick to 5-7-5 either.

    “It seems to value (and classify) a haiku-like poem — and many that are scarcely haiku-like at all — according to who penned it.”

    Why then does Roadrunner (one of your betes noires, it seems) hide the names of the poets?

    “His movement toward ‘tell-ems’ (psyku)”

    John Stevenson, contemporary giant that he is, did not introduce subjectivity into haiku. Last time you showed up, Mr. Giacolone, I provided you with exs. of extremely famous “subjective” haiku penned by Basho. Just to refresh your memory:

    amusing, then sad: the cormorant boats

    even in Kyoto, I yearn for Kyoto—the cuckoo’s song

    autumn deepens…my neighbor, how does he live?

    sick on a journey—my dreams wander desolate moors

    As was pointed out to you last time, these are among the most famous and widely translated haiku Basho ever wrote. So this kind of subjectivity has always been part of the tradition, one option among many available to poets.

    In addition, it should go w/o saying that poets are not limited to the techniques Basho employed any more than Basho was to those of his predecessors. Major poets are often trailblazers…like Basho.

    “allowed poets who have far less interesting insights to think we want to see their epigrams, bumper sticker slogans, and cliched greeting card sentiments in haiku journals”

    Speaking for myself, I’d rather see the least of such poems than a reactionary tirade.

    And actually, there are a lot of fine contemporary haiku in this psychological mode. Paul Miller, btw, is a master of this style although it is not his only one:

    deep winter
    stars between the stars
    I know
    (from called home–just one ex. among many)

    The key words in your discourse seem to be: “caution”, “standards”, “limits”.

    They are not words I associate with great art.

    “The barriers are not erected which can say to aspiring talents and industry, ‘Thus far and no farther.'”–Beethoven

  11. Thanks, Paul, for adding a note of caution for all those who seem to equate new or different with growth and creativity, and therefore constantly need to denigrate tradition and the factors that made haiku a unique genre.

    The problem with trends, of course, is that they attract many imitators and rather quickly lose their ability to attract a new audience. In the process,they also turn off those drawn to the genre because of its traditional features.

    It seems more than strange that within a few years of the English-language haiku community reaching the revolutionary consensus that the 5-7-5 format is unnecessary, as are season words, and that “nature” includes our urban landscape, we are told that without more radical change haiku will die — and, that we must call virtually any tiny scrap of words haiku if the author or editor does, or be banished to the dustbin of haiku history.

    Gene has a very good point about the haijin community. It seems to value (and classify) a haiku-like poem — and many that are scarcely haiku-like at all — according to who penned it. Although many readers would value “deep gorge” no matter who the author might be, there is no doubt in my mind that being John Stevenson is the only explanation for his one-liner “dust devils on a dead planet” being considered a poem, much less publishable haiku, and then even prize-winning haiku by the gang at Roadrunner.

    As for this particular poem, its creation conjures up this image and question in my mind:

    A renowned Master haijin stands at a quiet gorge (or imagines doing so), and has the interesting insight, “I’m part of that silence; some of that silence is me.” He then wants to use the moment as the basis for a haiku poem.

    How does he [or she] do it? How does he invoke that insightful moment in his readers? If he wants to create a haiku of the highest order, he doesn’t, I submit, merely tack the insight verbatim onto the image of a gorge. He instead draws upon those masterly skills and uses the second part of the poem to unite with sensory images the silence and the observer at the scene. He then allows the reader to make the connection (or come to many other possible conclusions), rather than forcing the insight on the reader and closing the conversation.

    No matter how interesting and insightful the idea, by choosing to merely tell us the insight, rather than showing what invoked it, John has made this poem much less than it could have been as haiku. I like “deep gorge” and posted it years ago at my weblog, but I’d love to see what a poet with John’s skills could have done if he had spent the time to show us rather than inform us of his conclusion.

    Sadly, being John Stevenson — who I value as a master haiku poet and honored editor, and a friend — has made it possible for editors to throw out the “show ’em/don’t tell ’em” standard over the past decade. John at least offers us unique insights and perspectives. His movement toward “tell-ems” (psyku) has, however, allowed poets who have far less interesting insights to think we want to see their epigrams, bumper sticker slogans, and cliched greeting card sentiments in haiku journals — so, they attach them to what Lee Gurga used to call “half a haiku.”. Worse, it has allowed haiku’s editors and teachers to accept these psyku, either because John does it, or because the genre is no longer supposed to have standards or limits.

    My apologies for covering so many topics.

  12. I was interested in Scott’s comment about a new subjectivity in haiku with the arrival and our comfort with more seasonless poems. But also troubled, because it seems to imply a trendiness to the genre, and I don’t think poetry should be trendy. I think the best poets have more than one style to their writing–adapted from the circumstances of the particular poem. The strongest argument against a strict 575 form is that any poem may require less syllables. And what is more important: the picture or the frame? Likewise, if a moment (and I’ll get in trouble for that word!!!) can be enhanced by a season word, why not add one? If it gets in the way, leave it out. The lesson of Penny’s poem in the prior Viral seemed to be around how much description does her “bowl” require—if any?

    To look at John’s poem. How would “deep summer gorge” differ from “deep winter gorge” or differ from his choice of just “gorge”? I can imagine a poem that would benefit from each. And each poem, no pun intended, would be just as ‘deep’ as the other. I don’t see how seasonality somehow closes a poem off to a reader.

  13. this is off the cuff folks:

    There isn’t anything here that can be decussed that is new to the genre.

    Let’s talk about the 4th line [the author] for a moment:
    John Stevenson.

    Lets see how much weight John’s voice carries…

    This is only an idea, since some folks feel that editors
    let me get away with things because of my avian back-
    ground, which isn’t true.

    How may people here, liked John’s poem because John wrote it? come on, give up those hands!

  14. Adelaide,

    Great point about the formatting and the way it forms the image of a gorge. It becomes a concrete poem in a sense. Also, the way that the last line (“is me”) is so isolated and pithy at the end emphasizes a sense of smallness and isolation in the greater scheme of things, and in the presence of a gorge (physically, or, perhaps, even in a spiritual sense). The formatting really does carry a lot of emotional punch to it—a really cool poetic technique. Which would be lost, at least a bit, if it was read outloud.

  15. Scott wrote regarding John Stevenson’s poem, “…a poem like this is so tantalizing.”

    a deep gorge . . .
         some of the silence
             is me

    It is tantalizing because the reader creates the poem along with the poet, which, for me, is what a haiku should be. I feel heat, mid-summer heat when the air is still. The silence fills the poet and there is nothing else he can say except that. To describe the weather, the depth, the width of the gorge is not possible. Whatever the conditions are or whatever descriptions others could make are not necessary. The gorge is there. Enough said.

    One last point on the positioning of the lines. The diagonal slant and the tightness of the last line create a visual effect consistant with the image of a gorge.


  16. You know, Theodore Roethke was convinced that rocks could breathe…there has been a lot of skeptisism about the “fact” but his belief
    and experience in the green houses of his father as a child brought to light a great deal of fine poetry and many insights into nature itself.
    What we lable things sometimes detracts from a greater truth…and there’s something inside us who delight in the revelations….
    John’s poem is one of those and I am thankful for it.

  17. A few responses to David Coomler’s thoughts:

    First, I share your ideal of harmonious coexistence among poets pursuing disparate goals, whether they be more traditional or more experimental.

    But my approach to terminology is different. True–the term “haiku” is applied to free-standing “hokku” of the past anachronistically, as you point out; but that’s just a shift in terminology, reflecting the need for a distinction between an autonomous, free-standing poem and the starting verse of a renku. After this useful distinction was made (by Shiki, of course), the tradition simply continued to evolve from there, evincing–as one should expect, esp. in the tumultuous, ever-changing 20th c.–both continuities and discontinuities.

    Today, many haiku are written that conform to the characteristics of classic hokku and also many that do not. But I would argue that using the term “hokku” for anything but a renku’s starting verse at this point is itself anachronistic and effaces a useful distinction.

    Dynamic, living, evolving artforms tend to be messy; like Scott, I see that “messiness” as a sign of health. One thing that interests me as a reader of haikai literature is the way an individual poem manifests certain specific characteristics that play off of tradition, sometimes adhering to norms, sometimes deviating from them, sometimes creating interesting ambiguities (such as blurring the line between haiku and senryu). That’s the way creativity works–and creativity within serious artforms has never been constrained by textbook rules and, really, cannot be.

  18. Scott,

    You write,

    “To try to write, say, “hokku”, in English in the 21st century seems antiquated, cliché, nostalgic and rather irrelevant. It’s backwards looking instead of an inspection and reflection of now and what is soon to be….”

    Essentially you are saying that to write verse in any style used previously, and to use historically accurate terminology, is simply not to be considered, because it automatically classifies such work as “irrelevant” and outdated. I wonder where and when you got the peculiar idea that only what is new — and even that only momentarily until the next revisionist leap forward — is relevant.

    I use the term hokku because what was written as hokku between the middle of the 17th century and the revisions of Shiki has virtually nothing in common with modern post-traditional haiku but brevity — and sometimes not even that. “Hokku” is both historically accurate and aesthetically defining — quite unlike “haiku” applied anachronistically to earlier verse, and shotgun-style to the immense variety of verse written under that vague umbrella from the middle of the 20th century to the present.

    In any case, I am quite happy to continue practicing and teaching hokku, which to me is ever fresh and new — as is Nature; and I wish you much happiness in your chosen course as well. Each to his own taste and path, and each according to his lights.

  19. the only way to define nature is to become one with nature. It’s pretty simple; keep an open mind and
    take a walk outside.

    a deep gorge . . .
    some of the silence
    is me

    — John Stevenson

    read John’s poem and if you are not in awe, I don’ know
    what to tell you.

  20. Dear Scott – Thanks a million for the “rocks!” Nothing like a little humor to
    bring things to simple solutions. 🙂 Merrill

  21. Speaking for traditional Japanese haiku,
    we should not forget the two KIGO categories of

    seikatsu 生活 Humanity, daily life, livelihood
    gyooji 行事 Observances, seasonal events

    These categories are not “nature pure”, but about the human life as it changes thruogh the seasons. The resulting poems with these kigo can be quite funny and humouous, but are usually NOT considerd senryu, but haiku.


  22. The point I wanted to make (I see now I didn’t state it clearly) is this: For me, the question is not whether we are part of nature (surely we are) but how we see the writer’s relationship to the poem.

  23. Any nature poem, in my opinion, includes the writer. John Stevenson has chosen his observations out of what must have been many possibilities, and in so doing entered the poem. In this case, he has gone a step farther and made an observation about observation. I also feel included. The last lines could be overlaid with the words: some of the silence is us (readers).

  24. Scott writes: “what is Nature? How do we define it?”

    Here’s the first def. from my Oxford American Dictionary: “the phenomena of the physical world collectively, including plants, animals, the landscape, and other features and products of the earth, as opposed to humans or human creations”.

    Just throwing that out there for now.

    Scott also writes: “our definition of Nature is expanding to include us (humans) and our inventions…”.

    It might be helpful if you said a little more, Scott, about who this “our” refers to exactly.

    My feeling is that this is a very complicated, tricky subject for a few of the following reasons:

    1) Humans originated within nature and are products of it.

    2) But our behavior and ideologies have often cut us off in certain ways from the rest of nature, thereby creating the schism reflected in the definition above.

    3) We also need to consider the transforming impact of our civilization on (the rest of) nature, in terms of extirpation or extinction of species, introduction of invasive species, fragmentation of habitats, destruction of ecosystems, industrial pollution, constant transformation of “natural resources” into human artifacts or waste, and potentialities such as destabilizing climate change and a nuclear arsenal that can wipe out multicellular life globally. These changes are occurring at a pace of centuries or even decades, whereas the forces that shaped most natural phenomena (species, ecosystems, landscapes, etc.) span millions or even billions of years.

    Isaac Asimov imagined a world called Trantor in his Foundation series, with a human population of 45 billion (sustained by human dwellings that extend deep underground). All other species had been wiped out, including trees and other plants (agriculture was an import from other worlds), and the entire surface of the planet had been essentially paved over. Obviously, Trantor is an extreme allegorical extrapolation from the pace of our own urbanization. An interesting thought experiment is to ask in what sense something like Trantor is “nature”. And is there a sense in which we can arrive at Trantor in terms of consciousness before doing so physically?

    Just throwing out a few ideas. I’d love to believe in a large-scale reconnection or reintegration of humanity with the rest of nature (exemplified by John Stevenson’s wonderful haiku), but I don’t see that concept reflected for the most part in our current global civilization.

  25. Scott writes:

    “It seems that because our definition of Nature is expanding to include us (humans) and our inventions—that human nature is indeed part of Nature and vice versa and not separate or divided from it—our definitions of haiku and senryu, and what they can be (and what they are capable of doing), must expand as well. The lines become blurred, as they should. Isn’t this a good thing, and a natural trajectory for haiku and senryu as they become more global?”

    The more things change, the more they stay the same. This redefinition of Nature and separation of haiku from the seasons was a very sore point between Harold Henderson and William J. Higginson in the founding of the Haiku Society of America in the late 1960s. Henderson — a traditionalist — said with some irritation that contrary to to Higginson’s notions, if one is going to remove what is characteristic of haiku (and to Henderson, “haiku” meant really hokku and the traditional haiku of Shiki, etc.), then one should no longer call the result haiku.

    And in fact, that seems to be the direction in which modern haiku — specifically post-traditional haiku — is moving, toward a formalization in terms of the blurring of the lines and boundaries that in reality has characterized American haiku from its beginnings. So a change of terms would be just terminology catching up with accomplished fact.

    Now from my perspective, this is not necessarily a bad thing, because if one stops calling this kind of season-free, non-Nature-focused verse haiku, then it actually may increase the effectiveness of terminology by leaving “haiku” as defining traditional post-hokku haiku, while post-traditional haiku will have moved on to being what it has always been — a brief verse form that, whatever it may finally be called, is neither haiku as Shiki knew it nor the hokku the preceded Shiki.

    One of my major points in teaching has always been that one should not anachronistically and stylistically confuse hokku with haiku, which did not really exist until the revisionism of Shiki near the end of the 19th century, nor should one confuse traditional haiku with post-traditional haiku. So a formal shift to a terminology that more clearly reflects and defines a genre of verse is all for the better, whatever one’s personal aesthetics.

    Perhaps then, with a terminology more accuratetly reflecting genres, we will at last be free of the utter confusion caused by the careless and indiscriminate use of the term “haiku” to describe everything from the hokku that preceded Shiki to the kind of verse advocated by Shiki (still Nature and season-based, but with increasing presence of modern technology and other aesthetic modifications), to the kinds of verse that writers under the vague umbrella of “haiku” have been presenting for decades, which is in many cases neither hokku nor haiku, but something quite new and distinctively different, as Harold Henderson astutely recognized very early on.

    And perhaps then the “thousand and one warring sects” and disputes that have so characterized American haiku from its inception to the present will gradually fade away, and people can just concentrate on writing hokku, or traditional haiku, or whatever their preferred verse happens to be.

    1. David,

      Thanks for your comment.

      To quote the astute Harold Henderson: “A definitive definition of haiku is probably impossible [as haiku] must be what poets make them, not verses that follow ‘rules’ set down by some ‘authority’ . . . a strict definition is neither possible nor desirable.”

      [Also, interestingly enough, this: “Prof Henderson suggested that experimentation with one-line haiku may be in order. After all, that is the Japanese method” (The Haiku Path, p 28).]

      I have a very difficult time thinking of hokku, traditional haiku, post-traditional haiku, (post-post-traditional haiku?, pre-post-modern haiku? how technical are we going to get here?) as islands, but instead as an intricate, ever-expanding web. Or as a vine. Or as nesting dolls, one blossoming and mutating out of the others; flowers in the same garden cross-breeding and influencing one another. It’s a progression, an evolution. Being that this is the 21st century (and not the 17th or the 19th), I think we should be writing in and of this era. This century. To try to write, say, “hokku”, in English in the 21st century seems antiquated, cliché, nostalgic and rather irrelevant. It’s backwards looking instead of an inspection and reflection of now and what is soon to be.

      Also, though Henderson and Blyth were writing about haiku (whose books were called “Intro to Haiku” and “Haiku”) well into the 20th century, they completely ignored 20th century work by Japanese poets and their “1000 & 1 warring sects” (which exists in all artforms, if they mean anything) and movements of that time. Plus, they Zen-warped it, and rhyme warped it, among other things. They are fantastic introductions to haiku (or, hokku and pre-modern traditional/post-hokku). It didn’t and doesn’t end with them though. New flowers are always blooming along the vine.

      I think Bashō said it well: “As time moves on, the art of haikai will go through its own thousand transitions and ten thousand changes, but all transformations based on makoto (genuineness) will be part of the master’s art. The master said, “Never content yourself with the drivel of the ancients. Just as the four seasons change, all things become new. Everything is that way” (Tohō, disciple of Bashō (translated by David Landis Barnhill).

      And to quote Shiki: “haiku advances only when it departs from the traditional style.”

      David, is there anything new you can bring to this ku (which is my preferred term) by John Stevenson besides the fact that it might not fit a definition of hokku or traditional haiku?

Comments are closed.

Back To Top