Pop Quiz: Is haiku in English a socially relevant poetics in the 21st century?

Just posted this on The Haiku Foundation’s Forum’s section, “In-Depth Haiku: Free Discussion Area,” in case you’d like to check the answers (if any) it garners there. Thought i’d throw it out here as well. Since Richard Gilbert and I came up with homeland, the new section for R’r, we thought it would be interesting and thought-provoking to pose this very question. Look forward to hearing opinions on this.

Pop Quiz (single question):

Is haiku in English a socially relevant poetics in the 21st century?


Please answer “yes/no” to this question, and please provide a brief rationale and haiku examples to support your (yes/no) answer and statements.

2 thoughts on “Pop Quiz: Is haiku in English a socially relevant poetics in the 21st century?

  1. yes

    proteins fold-up
    so do your poems
    & days

    all these cornfield
    plastic bags get
    plowed under

    john martone, the first from *molecular lament*, second from *skeleton key*

  2. I’ve posted this also on the HF site.

    Surely “socially relevant” will mean different things to different people. For many it will mean feeling part of a haiku community with all that implies. For others, its meaning will fall somewhere within the range of possibilities implied by effecting some sort of change, making a difference in people’s lives, or in the culture as a whole.

    But the question relates to “poetics”, that is to say the art and technique of poetry, and this brings me more directly in touch with my own inclination– stance if you will– which is to believe (without being particularly attached to or insistent on the belief) that poetry, to be poetry, must be in some way revelatory, and that revelation (embodied in non-linear, intuitive language) of whatever is hidden, lost or denied is ultimately, eventually beneficial, and socially relevant in ways that may take time to become apparent.

    I think the value of any art lies in its ability to draw participants into a deeper understanding of its “subject matter”, bypassing, at least initially, intellection and moving toward intuition. In short, it has no agenda– which to some may mean it will fall short of social or political relevance. But as I see it, not having an agenda gives the reader/listener (in the case of poetry) the opportunity to discover his or her own relationship to that subject, fostering feelingful contact. Haiku is not unique in this, but it does seem to be a core aspect of its “poetics”, in theory if not always in practice.

    I think it is fair to say that Japanese aesthetics (which inform haiku poetics, needless to say) have influenced Western culture– consider wabi-sabi– and been incorporated to the extent that the influence itself is no longer in the foreground. This is much less true of haiku itself, which (is it fair to say?) the majority of “mainstream” poets and the English language world as a whole continue to see as a Japanese cultural phenomenon which may be learned from and imitated but which is as genuine in the English language as “champagne” produced in the Napa Valley.

    From this point of view, “haiku in English” is regarded as something closer to “haiku in Japanese in English”. And in many instances, this is the case. The genius of the English language (with all its cultural felicities and limitations) has only sporadically been explored in haiku. Haiku writers seem reluctant to sail beyond Japan’s territorial seas. And some who do are nonetheless drawn back by the undertow termed “gendai”.

    To my mind, this has bearing on any discussion of social relevance.

    So haiku poetics, yes, insofar as they have been incorporated into the work of many poets of the past hundred years, have had and continue to have social relevance– if one believes, as I do, that poetry itself does. However, haiku itself remains in a bubble.

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