rags

from “The Wasteland” by T. S. Eliot (1922)

/ lakes & now wolves

 

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two problems


“Whenever I read haiku written by contemporary U.S. writers (and there are many haiku out there), I note two main problems that limit the work from being as intriguing as it might. Both have to do with misunderstandings about the history of haiku.

The first problem: the idea that the primary goal of a haiku, in its compact syllables, is to create beautiful images. It’s true that haiku can be beautiful, yet more crucial than beauty to the haiku is that the image should tell us something significant, often even conflicted, about the human world, or the natural world, and frequently about their relation to each other. A haiku should reveal to us something about the world that we don’t understand or never have said as compactly. Seventeen syllables can be enough to frame a profound insight or define a powerful conflict.

The second problem, connected to the first: that this beautiful image should exclusively portray nature or humans within a wholly natural setting. In the context of the contemporary U.S., this misunderstanding turns the resulting haiku into exercises in nostalgia, in how to picture human life as free of industrialization, commercialization, or the morass of politics and manipulative media language. Yet although the great writers of haiku usually know the haiku tradition well, the goal of the best haiku has never been simply to imitate the past. Instead, the great writers of haiku take the tradition and do something that’s both unique and reflects its own moment of composition, not the past, in a way that acknowledges haiku tradition but extends it.”

Mark Wallace

/ Scorpion Prize 26 (R’r 12.2, 2012)