“In reviewing this correspondence [between 1973-74 between Cor van den Heuvel and Robert Bly], Lee Gurga responded to Bly’s emphasis that, in seeming contrast to English-language haiku, Bashō’s poems have ‘a powerful thought, linked to some terrific anxiety, or tension inside the poet’s life.’ [. . .] Here is Gurga’s response:

Even allowing for some overstatement here, I think the observation is something that needs to be considered in North American haiku: Can people living nearly dangerless lives in the most affluent society that the world has ever known write poetry with the kind of depth that a Bashō with an empty rice gourd or a Shiki with a chest full of phlegm wrote? After all, if the choice is not between life and death but between skiing or going to the beach, will this not make a qualitative difference in the poem?”

/ Tundra #2 (p 41)

8 thoughts on “stance

  1. The U.S.A. was just emerging from some of the most tumultuous events in its history when this dialogue between Bly and Van Den Heuvel occurred: the Vietnam War had just ended; the race wars and civil rights movement were still in their throes; the South (with the awful logic of Nixonians) had developed a Southern strategy for the GOP which remains to this day; the beginnings of the undoing of the labor movement was represented by Ronald Reagan and a “trickle down” economy was announced that lasted for 30 years and left the U.S. as the third highest country in the ranking between the disparity of wealth and poverty. Anxiety and uncertainty existed to a high degree, as they always have.

  2. I would like to add a brief anecdote to illustrate.
    One of my haiku had been accepted for issue 1 of Tundra. I waited months for its publication only to find to my chagrin that my poem had not been included. The publisher said it was an oversight and the poem would be placed in issue 2.
    It was not and I took it personally;it was my opinion that the publisher did not consider me at the time “prominent” (one of his favorite words) enough to be respected.
    Yet, my poem would have fulfilled both requirements in the dialogue discussed above, leaning slightly in the direction of Bly and the times. Here it is:

    a weeded lot-
    a white butterfly stops
    in the dark places

  3. P.S= Sorry about Reagan; had my dates wrong.
    But, remember the woman’s movement was in full swing and remember what havoc that caused socially to us who were brought up under the old belief systems about the sexes!

  4. I’m not sure the distinction here should be between our safe lives here in the west and Basho’s, but between safe and marginal–and you could easily find people living in comfort in his days. Safety is also relative

    But it does raise an interesting question about class, and our illusion that somehow the less well off are more noble. We see it in the books published on drunk or dying monks (Santoka, Hozai, etc) yet few if any books on well to do poets

  5. Actually, the point is well taken. But the archetype of the wandering, penniless poet or mountain hermit poet is peculiar to the East, arising first in China. While we don’t have an equivalent in the West, there are such types as Robinhood, etc. The 1930s saw a plethora of books during the proletarian period about the decent, if not noble, poor; just think of Frank Capra films. No doubt there have always been noble nobleman in the upper classes, but they do not conform to the usual types of the arts. Besides the idea of nobility is well contra-revolutionary to the French and Americans; we did arise out of civil wars with the corrupted aristocracy, no?

  6. Robert Bly, whom I personally consider among the most significant and influential men in my life, will be 86 next week. He has Alzheimer’s.
    In his introduction to Little Enough, Cid Corman says something which I feel speaks to what Bly is saying:
    “Making haiku- properly embraced– is no more a business or a hobby than making love or making life should be. It is a form of poetry– which means– if the word means anything– precisely where each word is a matter of life and death.
    It is never a vacation from but a vacating of life– an emptying out– spilling all one’s poverty into the open hands of every each beggar one of us all”.

    This poverty, as I see it, is not only the province of itinerant monks. It is not necessarily a choice one makes to live simply, but a willingness to “vacate”– to to get down to that naked place within oneself where one may indeed confront anxiety, where life is not a denial of death.
    So one could ask, quite simply, about one’s own work and the work of others, does this poem matter? And what is it a matter of?

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