“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] 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.”
/ 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)
“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.”
/ Scorpion Prize 26 (R’r 12.2, 2012)
“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.”
/ “first thoughts—a haiku primer”
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:
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)
William J. Higginson
/ a review of Far Beyond the Field by Makoto Udea (Modern Haiku 34.3, 2003)
/ Rhythm in the Vacuum (1986)
“[A]n example demonstrating how haiku bring the reader toward the phenomenology of the hard problem via adumbrations of the paradoxical and hypothetical can be found in this haiku by Natsuishi Ban’ya.
“Put a period” begins with what seems a trivial action: put a period somewhere. Usually we put them on paper; yet the second line represents a left turn with “into the desert,” reversing semantic expectation. Putting a period into the desert evokes a different line of image, action and form, from what might conceivably be done with a literal, textual period. And so, realism is subverted. The sense of paradox is heightened by the imperative grammatical tone. The poem is so short that while thinking this part out I’ve scanned the whole several times. Though having read this poem some years ago, I continue to formulate possible worlds: the aspect of explaining, in fact, the “explainer” of intellect rides behind the propulsive process of reading/misreading.
Some of my hypothetical speculations: the period implies “end of an era,” death, finality, a flag (of some sort); the desert is real and inhabits the new world, or a speculative new world; is an actual place (e.g. Death Valley, the high desert of Nasca); the haiku is political, “center of the desert” represents America’s current government and its war in Iraq; the period is a wounding; the haiku is historical, relating to Columbus’s “discovery” and eurocentrism; so, the haiku is revisionist and ironic, accessing “new world” in a post-colonial manner; the haiku landscape is that of another planet awaiting discovery; an alternative universe where putting a period exactly thus makes good sense; the haiku is a surreal remembrance, a novel myth. Alternativity spawns alternativities. The period is wherever my attention is.”
Richard Gilbert / “Plausible deniability: Nature as hypothesis in English‑language haiku” & in Poems of Consciousness: Contemporary Japanese and English-language Haiku in Cross-cultural Perspective (Red Moon Press, 2008)
“Haiku after Bashō became increasingly popular, and with the growing stability of the tightly regulated feudal regime under the Tokugawa shogunate—a phenomenon unprecedented in world history—it was perhaps only to be expected that haiku poets would become decadent. It would not be correct to say that this was because later poets neglected the spirit of Bashō, or that they stopped seeking out the same things he did. We should instead recognize that this decadence followed directly from the continued adulation of Bashō. It was not simply that Bashō’s words underwent a process of mystification at the hands of his followers and later commentators. The cause lies rather in the failure to abandon Bashō. Art does not permit both artistic genius and artistic form to be studied at the same time. When the attempt is made, the spirit of genius is taken to be conveyed through form, leading inescapably to the formalization of the spirit itself. The result is called academicism or mannerism. Bashō studied Saigyō and Du Fu through the very different forms of waka and Chinese verse, so he had no choice but to extract and absorb only their genius. This would seem to account for Bashō’s ability to escape mannerism while still absorbing the spirit of the past. But since later haikai poets studied only haiku and called constantly for a “return to Bashō,” mediocrity was the unavoidable result.”
Kuwabara Takeo / “Modern Haiku: A Second-Class Art” (1946) [Tr. by Mark Jewel]
“While I’ve been very conscious over the years of using such poetic tools as juxtaposition, indeterminacy, sampling, and randomness to create haiku, I’ve been thinking in terms of images, feelings, senses, the matter of the poem. That the difference lay in the comparison of elements, not so much in the valence of meaning or the shifting of themes or focus.
In other words, I haven’t thought of it as an overlay of two different worlds, only an overlay of experiences. The mystical world and the mundane world are the same to me. Or so I strive to make them so. Sometimes it’s easy. Sometimes it takes a great knack.”
The Superlative Quotidian: An Interview with Chris Gordon
/ A Hundred Gourds 1.1 (2011)
“Yes, and though I stay away from calling myself a haiku poet, I will admit that there is something in me that is attracted to the 5/7/5 blueprint and likes to play off and with it. Maybe it’s like agreeing to have four limbs (I’m a quadropus) and not the eight of an octopus. The body has limits which the dance, for one, plays off and with. There is no exceeding (and maybe no excelling) without limits. Seeds and cells.”
Artisan of the Imagination: An Interview with Peter Yovu
/ A Hundred Gourds 1.2 (2012)
“Bashō’s haiku speak only of what was around him [emphasis in original]. That is, his subject was either an emotion he felt subjectively or else natural scenes and human affairs that he observed objectively. This is of course admirable, but the fact that he discarded scenes which arise from imagination and are outside observation, as well as human affairs he had not experienced, shows that Bashō’s realm was rather small.”
/ Masaoka Shiki: his life and works
by Janine Beichman (40)
“The bones of haikai are plainness and oddness.”
/ The essential haiku: versions of Bashō, Buson, and Issa edited by Robert Hass (238)
A copy of Carving Darkness: The Red Moon Anthology of English-language Haiku 2011 (Red Moon Press, 2012) was received the other day.
One ku that appeared in R’r in 2011 was voted in:
This year’s editorial board consisted of: Roberta Beary, Ernest J. Berry, Randy M. Brooks, Dee Evetts, Leroy Gorman, Maureen Gorman, Matthew Paul, Kohjin Sakamoto, John Stevenson & Max Verhart.
Jim Kacian is the editor-in-chief.
“So it goes.”
“Tradition is everything. . . . The press . . . they love to separate avant-garde from tradition. At the end they are not two things. They are the same thing. . . . There’s only two kinds of cooking: the bad cooking and the good cooking. What happens is if we forget our traditions, if we don’t keep looking to the past, it’s very difficult to understand who you are, and even more difficult to be looking to the future.”
chef and owner of minibar, Zaytinya & é
& teacher, with Ferran Adrià, of culinary physics at Harvard University
“Probably the further we get away from Japanese haiku the closer we get to haiku.” —Marlene Mountain (Japaneasy / 1.11.2001)
“Since that time [the 1970s, while studying the poets Issa and Santoka], I have tried to learn how to accept [the] two elements of quality and appeal. As a result, my haiku have changed a great deal. Plainly stated, I wanted to create haiku that could be understood and loved by all. My poems do not necessarily have to be loved, but I want them to be understood. With this in mind, I have continued trying to find my way. I used to think that quality mattered more than popularity, and that it was all right to write as I pleased. But I changed after the seventies. As a result, I fumbled about in various ways on my own. . . .
Lately, I have been saying that haiku is folk poetry and that haiku is a national folk art. This means that it is both popular and artistic. Calling it folk art means that the whole nation loves it. They are proud of it as poetry. This shortest poetic form has great power and popularity. We feel great affection and familiarity towards it. That is what makes haiku great.”
from “The Artistic Quality and Appeal of Haiku” (2004)
“. . . I am inclined to think that short poems, even short poems with a seasonal reference and a 5-7-5 syllabic structure, written in English can’t be, strictly speaking, haiku. Or to say it another way, the haiku is still acclimatizing itself, in this country, to the cultures of American poetry. . . . I expect something unexpected will eventually evolve from our admiration for and attempts to translate the practice of the short Japanese poem.”
—Robert Hass (from R’r 7.4, November 2004)
“In so much of poetry and thinking about poetry right now, there is a good deal of appropriate skepticism about the assumptions behind realism as a literary mode and therefore about the whole question of what we do when we think to represent nature. It might be useful to let this tradition—and the range of anti-realist practices, from surrealism to language poetics—enter the practice of haiku, if only to take away the sort of easy wow! poem that tends to be the first stage of our attempts to appropriate the form.”
—Robert Hass (from R’r 7.4, November 2004)