in a world of blur

Some of the New Precisionists whose work I enjoy a great deal these days include Graham Foust, Joseph Massey & Chris McCreary. Might anyone confuse them with Objectivism, neo- or otherwise? Only carelessly.    [. . .] What they [. . .] constitute [. . .] might just be part of a moment, one in which many writers—think of Devin Johnston or the brothers O’Leary or John Martone or Jonathan Greene, even Kay Ryan—in which what at first seems to be a poetics of minimalism exists precisely to magnify the etched qualities of precise poetics. Hence precisionism. All of this attention to the exact, occurring right now in a world of blur, often feels like a political statement, a politics each of them shares dedicated to sharpness, to specifity. I would distinguish this from the so-called well-wrought urn of two generations ago by noting that this new generation, with few if any exceptions, explicitly rejects the glaze. It has, I suspect, less to do with craft than with ethics.

Ron Silliman

/ Friday, May 28, 2010

stance

“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)

a the the a

“[A] case can be made out for the poet giving some of his life to the use of the words a and the: both of which are weighted with as much epos and historical destiny as one man can perhaps resolve. Those who do not believe this are too sure that the little words mean nothing among so many other words.”

—Louis Zukofsky

/ Avant-Garde Haiku by Philip Rowland (Frogpond 25.1, 2002); as found in The Marginalization of Poetry by Bob Perelman (Princeton, New Jersey: University of Princeton Press, 1996, p50)

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)

web

“Properly considered, [haiku] is . . . the world’s longest poem. . . . [H]aiku becomes the agglomeration of thousands, even millions, of small moments, from nearly the same number of poets over several centuries, shared by way of a common form. We are a part of this far-ranging community, and as such can feel the power which community can bring to such an enterprise.”

Jim Kacian

/ “first thoughts—a haiku primer”

seekings

Perhaps the appraisal of Marlene Mountain that is most important of all comes from Haruo Shirane, author of the influential book Traces of Dreams: Landscape, Cultural Memory, and the Poetry of Bashō (Stanford University Press, 1998): in 2001, he wrote to her:

Dear Marlene,

I consider [William J.] Higginson to be a close friend and I admire his work greatly, but here I must offer a different opinion with regard to your work. Whether or not it fits some definition of haiku is of little relevance in the larger picture. The fact is that it is superior poetry, much superior to almost the entire body of what has been narrowly defined in North America as *haiku.* Bashō, like his great rival, Saikaku, felt that it was not form that counted, it was the poetry, the quality of the words, how it could move the reader. In their younger years, they broke all kinds of rules. Saikaku was criticized severely, and was told he was just *blowing dust.* But it was in the process of breaking rules that these poets often made their greatest poetic achievements. Great poets don’t stick to rules; they make their own. You belong in that company.

To put it another way, what was most important for Bashō was what was called *haikai spirit*, to be constantly seeking new horizons, new forms, new words, new emotions. In my view, you have that spirit.

Haruo Shirane (Columbia University)

 —

excerpted from Jack Galmitz’s essay “then I must go to the Mountain: (space reserved) for Marlene Mountain” (R’r 12.2), and can also be found in his collection of essays, Views (Cyberwit Press, 2012)