One Hundred Days—One Hundred Haiku


‘A haiku a day keeps the doctor away…’ James Kirkup [RIP]—who also said, ‘I follow no path; the path follows me…’

At the beginning of 2012 there was talk on Facebook of putting up a haiku a day for a year. Half way through the month of January I decided to give the idea a whirl for myself: it would be a good way of collecting haiku together for another book… I started organising myself on the 19th of the month so that to begin with, to make up the numbers, I had to post more than one a day. What’s contained in this Blog is the first 100 days’ worth of haiku.

But before we get to the haiku themselves… While all this was taking place I continued to come to terms with the modern haiku fashion for words plucked out of thin air and and bashed on the page to keep up with the Jones. Issue 22/2 of Blithe Spirit, the journal of The British Haiku Society which I currently edit contains the following Editorial Statement:-

To Pass the Time on a Crowded Train the Other Day…

I took Haiku 21—an anthology of contemporary English-language haiku (edited by Lee Gurga and Scott Metz, Modern Haiku Press) with the aim of considering it as though it were a body of 600+ haiku being submitted for publication in Blithe Spirit—a not unusual number for an editor to look at each quarter. I am told that a woman who was standing in the aisle was looking at me with extreme displeasure at my treatment of the book: I was slashing my way through it with a pencil, sometimes scribbling items out with vigour & distaste. My conclusion was that only 25% of the selection would have made it (under my editorship such as it is…) into Blithe Spirit.  I might be accused of being a deficient editor but I am certainly not a slave of fashion!

Having been accustomed all my life to marching along with Thoreau to the sound of a different drum (all the others are out of step…) and with only a few more issues of Blithe Spirit to edit, I feel I can now throw discretion to the wind: after 20 years, I become more certain of where I stand on the Nature of Haiku—I find I haven’t moved much from the original BHS Consensus. Now it is somewhat alarming to me that things like

from a Pepsi can
the preacher’s
large right claw

or

a road crosses a road another road does not

should be considered worth anthologising in a book of what might, by some stretch of the imagination, be called ‘haiku’, notwithstanding the empire-building efforts of such as Richard Gilbert to change the face of things. It seems to me that what’s happening in the haiku world is the creation of a new orthodoxy—pluck any two or three things out of thin air and ram them into a short poem:

in the garden steel ears for dreams come whistling

As a short imagistic poem this kind of thing and way of working may be very acceptable but the question is—does it count as ‘haiku’? Notice the question—not the barren ‘Are these examples haiku?’ but the meta-question ‘Do they count as haiku?’

Is forsythia the wrong destination

appears without even a question mark… A lousy short poem, let alone counting as haiku…

Particularly in relation to a ‘haiku’ such as

mindless water moving/ghost jelly water/moving mind ghost

in imitation of the peppermint/squid school of hykoo, I am reminded of Samuel Johnson’s comment on the ‘Metaphysical Poets’:-

The most heterogeneous ideas are yoked by violence together; nature and art are ransacked for illustrations, comparisons, and allusions; their learning instructs, and their subtlety surprises; but the reader commonly thinks his [sic] improvement dearly bought and, though he sometimes admires, is seldom pleased.

As Hiroaki Sato just manages to squeeze out, it seems to me in a double-edged sort of way, on the cover of Haiku 21: ‘Along with haikuesque sensibilities come fleeting remarks, cosmic wonders [wonderings, maybe], whimsies, dissonances, gritty and elegant melding with nature, veritable koans…’ Says it all, really… Haikuesque except for the 25%…  Anything but ‘haiku’…

Recently I’ve found myself saying to members of BHS on several occasions that, receiving so many submissions to cope with in such a short space of time, I have to work with gut reaction. Any editor has their own way of looking at things—though a few haiku do slip the net, for example, I still eschew anything that smacks of anthropomorphism; they also have their own more general set of metaphysical presuppositions; these things are sure to influence decision-making. There’s a quite respectable philosophical point of view, for instance, to which on good days I happen to subscribe, that says that the whole of experience is a mental construction, an invention, a story we tell ourselves to divert our attention from the overarching meaninglessness of life: we construct the world, the universe and all there is within it; sure there are real objects and people outside of us but all we have for certain are our mental constructions of them. What’s my haiku gut reaction in that context? For me, it’s a rapid combination of Feeling, Intellect and Action—a fundamentally other-than-conscious response to what’s before me.

Such a rapid combination of Feeling, Intellect and Action is, for me, also a prerequisite for the successful writing of haiku.

I have before me a book of hykoo published by Iron Press whom we have always assumed to be a judicious publisher of haiku. Opening it at random, my gut winces at the overly intellectual

Yearly, Venice’s sea-marriage—
Then Nature’s constant threat
Of catastrophic divorce

The metaphor, such as it is, doesn’t even work—how does ‘divorce’ square up with potential inundation? On another page, my gut winces even more at, if you can stand it:-

Boasting a uniqueness of watery streets
Hidden behind the railway terminus
Clumps of shame-faced automobiles.

Again, an intellectual construction in 29 syllables, a story told about external reality incorporating all the dead lumber of conventional poetry which haiku eschews, complete with anthropomorphism.

Both Modern Haiku Press and Iron Press seem to me to be doing a considerable disservice to the concept ‘haiku’, pretty much the same disservice as Spam Haiku has done for some years: from a Spam Haiku site: ‘unconnected strings of words and nonsensical garbage which is simply used to stuff an email so that it appears to have actual content…’

Now, here’s the danger it seems to me: if one takes it for granted that ‘the whole of experience is a mental construction, an invention, a story we tell ourselves to divert our attention from the overarching meaninglessness of life’, then it could be argued that haiku, as the poetry of experience, should encapsulate all experience, including the yoking of heterogeneous ideas violently together and the resorting to poetic conceits—that’s all experience, all part of our ‘consciousness’. So the question remains—where is a line to be drawn, if line is to be drawn, between haiku and what I call ‘proper poetry’, for instance, or between haiku and ‘garbage’?

It is not too much, in my opinion for what it’s worth, to assert that we are experiencing in the haiku-world what Gurdjieff calls The Terror of the Situation. By which he means that civilisation is in the grip of sleeping people reacting mechanically to whatever they find around them: politicians, religious leaders, capitalist conspirators, all sleep-walking, taking us sleepwalkers blithely into perdition. We do not question things; or if we do, we do not feel sufficiently moved to take action—we imagine we are helpless to change anything. In the haiku-world we are increasingly being led, sleepwalking, by mechanical gurus, determined, like politicians, to make a name for themselves, down a path that is destroying the very concept of haiku as a unique form of poetry; if we do not question what’s going on we’ll find that ‘what makes a haiku a haiku’ (whatever that might be) will dissolve into nothingness.

For me, for instance, haiku is a gut reaction to external events, not a directly conscious response at all. But the very title of Gilbert’s book (Poems of Consciousness) seems to suggest that haiku is about consciousness, that haiku is a conscious production; he says he’ll investigate the many concepts of what we call ‘consciousness’ but fails to do so. One of them is that there’s no such thing as consciousness merely acts of relationship between what we like to think of as ‘us’ and whatever it is that’s out there without any intervening variables—consciousness is an illusion of the first water.

After a lot of thought, I am coming to the conclusion, at last, that if we take the depiction of ‘experience’ as the basis of haiku, the frost outside the window, the seagulls going up-river, the ticking of the clock, sunlight, then, without going into surreal fantasy and conscious random word-association we can reasonably ask what happens when such things go into mind’s melée, the apparent making of mental constructions, and count that as experience which can be shared by others. These two haiku by Mark Rutter, going beyond conventional orthodoxy, seem to me to be interesting and accessible haiku/senryu forays into mind’s melée. I am able to identify with their content without putting on a surrealist or even modern hat.

supermarket queue—
emptying the basket
I notice I’m naked

I will myself to pass
through the mirror
and step into a dream

*

And so to the hundred haiku I’ve put up on Facebook since 1st January 2012

forgetting all this
is what I do
when I remember myself

*

disturbed
by the sudden light
the purring moves up the bed

*

midnight garden;
at the open window
the sound of a distant sea

*

Rosie playing the cello:
stardust
& celandine

*

wild thinking
at dead of night—
cliff collapse

*

the twittering
of little sparrows passes
time in the station roof

*

crow flying
beyond the undrawn curtains
before daybreak

*

silver bay
under a silver sun
frosted mud-flats

*

little girl presses
her face into the smile
in the window-pane

*

hospital waiting-room:
the nurses talk about
their amateur dramatics

*

the space
from which a swan
has just flown

(after Mallarmé)

*

today’s sunrise
a narrow streak
between two trees

*

coming to
after the anaesthetic—
such wild dancing

*

in the Black Sea
swimming along the moon-trail
so never alone

*

that memory—
butterfly’s wing
in a forest fire

(after Camus in The First Man)

*

reading in spring sun
all afternoon
the wind full of trees

*

to recall
forgotten memories—
a granite beach

(dream haiku)

*

old chestnut trees
and stone angels
with folded wings

(after Arthur Koestler: The Age of Longing)

*

the air suddenly
full of Sunday
and false spring

(ditto)

*

the crunch of feet
under the abbey ruins
santolina & mint

*

crow squawk—
damn humans coming & going
in Jedburgh Abbey

*

oh to be a young lad
from school receptive
to all that learning now…

*

over Flodden field
a harrier jet screaming—
just one poppy

*

Sebastopol—
the old matchseller
counts up the change

(dream haiku)

*

fields of ragwort—
what was that fairy-tale
about buried treasure?

*

this familiar place—
a nostalgic jolt
in the circuitry

*

the peace of a station
after the train has gone—
clock-tick & ragwort

*

remaining constant
to a dream-in-spite-of:
the distant hills of home

*

the great sycamore
suddenly erupts—
a homeliness of rooks

*

heron taking off
greyer than grey—
squawking sky

*

apple-tree
at night—one bite
of the darkness

(dream haiku)

*

in the new village hall
an unmeeting of old minds;
the moon glides by

*

estuary—
mudflats
& broken sky

*

e-book
buzzing in e-brain
e-gawd

*

the fast train
dissolves the estuary
into the small hills of Essex

*

train compartment—
a page of my book
in sudden sunlight

*

train platform argument;
the wind gets up in Fenland trees
—fallen leaves swirl

*

on a journey
having finished this book
I turn to trees & grasses

*

the ‘talking part’ ends—
her hands cease circling
for the discussion part

(for Susan Lee Kerr)

*

when I’m dead & gone
my library—4000 books
in a skip

*

midnight fusillades—
at last the Revolution?
no just New Year fireworks

11.50pm 31.12.2011

*

cat paw-prints
the only places where
there’s no snow this morning

*

bending for dropped coins
in thick frost—he risks
a little smile

*

motorbike  serve
& a breaking wobble—
I calmly survey the landscape

*

day-storm
a lighter grey through clouds
into the lake

*

being where you thought
you’d been before—this street
re-dreaming your life

*

pigeons still walking
on roof ridges
all these fifty years

(on re-reading Conrad’s The Rover
after fifty years…)

*

out in the dark cold
way beyond the self
the racing clouds

*

my old cat curled up
trudging into death
in sun on a garden seat

*

said Ben: you do not ask
what the point of a tree
in a field might be

(Ben Nicholson when asked what the point
of his abstract paintings was…)

*

beyond the garden fence
pneumatic fieldscape
full of gulls

*

all those stars
drifting round the sky
like there was no tomorrow

*

kicking myself for
joining the new Babel of
e-lectronicus

*

small snow
as though part of this mist
had settled overnight

*

man on the bus
thinking he’s the driver
waves at other buses

(found in an email from Imogen Blundell)

*

ice-lake
boat tied up
ready for summer

*

a day that feels like winter:
last of the snow
& the dying cat

*

I stop moving
and the room stops with me
—a log shifts in the grate

*

bluebottle
buzzing an empty room
from long ago

*

above all
bean & sardine risotto
and a whole afternoon

*

through half-closed eyes
—the sunlit bay
and its boats

*

a poem of
country life—walled garden
& trees in town

(for John & Mary)

*

not to be imitated
specially by a mob
in a theatre

*

unexpected journey—
old fields     dusk
and a flight of rooks

*

deep in thought
lorry-driver paused
at the level-crossing gate

*

a plump of feathers—
rook landing
at green field centre

*

a square of moonlight
on bare floorboards—
the quivering

*

cathedral spire
against a snow-filled sky—
dark early tonight

*

the new people
on the train all dive into
their mobile phones

*

the train starts…
lovely woman shrieks with a joy
passing all understanding

*

my notebook—
remembering him who used
the same small size

(for Richard Jefferies)

*

accentuating her order
by thumping on the counter:
“FISH N CHIPS”

*

on a train
absorbed in a book
I forget the estuary

*

in a well-known room
full of spring sunlight
I wonder who I might be

*

sometimes even now
her kiss… the moon—
an alleyway sixty years since

*

the opacity
of a metaphysical text—
longing for swallows

*

fleeting—
the private thought of
concrete

*

magnolia multitude
of frogs leaping from clouds—
the squelching

*

a Box Hill
windy day:
my long-dead father beside me

*

if I could tell you
what it means there’d be
no point in dancing it

(Isadora Duncan)

*

station in the middle
of nowhere—the sound of
an ancient aircraft

(at Stowmarket)

*

and then the estuary again
in fading light—
mostly mudflat

*

consumed by their e-things
two diners await
tom yum vermicelli

*

on the third level
the entertainment
much louder

*

the surprise of waking
to poplars
& a magpie on a gutter

*

my house crumbles to dust
overnight;   by morning
it’s back in one piece

(dream haiku)

*

early spring dawn
the blackbird steams off into
the mist beyond the hedge

*

the colour of evening:
log fire—
its quick sparks

*

it goes smoothly on
between woods & fields & hills
the express train

*

overnight the estuary
full of
sparkling wavelets

*

at Ely
the man in the red hat
throws it back to drink in the sun

*

struggling to get
the message of a book
on understanding messages

*

expecting a call now
from a woman I kissed
in a dream last night

*

an empty beach
as far as I can see—
even emptier soon

*

hospital waiting-room:
making a joke
out of procedures

*

owl hours
spent dreaming I was awake
—now I wake into a dream

*

black earth
of the Fens in spring—
pylons

*

white night
ending in the setting
of a blood-red moon

*

station waiting-room:
steer clear of quotes about death
she tells her mobile

*

dying day—
every field dip & cranny
filled by rain

*

at this same table
in the same night café—
a different self

*

Easter Monday 2012

9 thoughts on “One Hundred Days—One Hundred Haiku

  1. I haven’t done much reading/writing of Haiku, but since one tumbled out of my mind the other day I’ve been interested in learning more about them and possibly writing some more. I learned quite a bit from reading this post – I think my haiku may contain too much metaphor (?) and I should rewrite it. I can already see some things I need to change. (I’d be curious to know how you’d critique it, but in a way, you already did just from me reading your post!) If I write one, I want to do so properly – If the image doesn’t work with a haiku, I’d rather put it into some other kind of poem. This gives me something to think about until the next one pops into my head.

    Like

    1. Ariadne’s Daughter – I’m glad my post made sense!

      ‘If the image doesn’t work with a haiku, I’d rather put it into some other kind of poem…’ this is exactly what I do and I think it’s exactly right! If a haiku doesn’t come quickly it’s odds on that one is thinking about it too much; for me, haiku come from a different part of the brain. In haiku – at least the kind that I admire – the task is to come at the world without dragging all the lumber of Western style with you. As my blurb indicates, the haiku-world is a-changing but I will stick with what I believe! This makes me either dead cussed or ignorant or principled.

      I’d be happy to do a gentle critique! I act as mentor for new members of The British Haiku Society so I’m used to it!

      Good to hear from you!

      Like

  2. Thanks for the offer. Here is my haiku:

    Curious clouds
    Make a striped and spotted sky
    Giant, blue beast

    I wasn’t sure about the word “make”. And as I said, it’s a metaphor. It’s just how I saw things in the sky that day.

    Like

  3. Dear Ariadne’s Daughter

    Nice idea, obviously the result of your immediate experience which is where haiku certainly come from.

    Opinions differ but in general it’s usual when writing haiku to give the reader space to put two & two together so if it was a striped and spotted sky it’s a pretty ‘curious’ sort of sky so you could economise by saying simply

    clouds –
    a striped and spotted sky

    I think I’d draw the conclusion that it was ‘curious’!

    Economical writing is good in haiku!

    ‘Giant blue beast’ is certainly a metaphor but again opinions differ and the haiku-world is changing. This would probably not have been acceptable in the past.

    On the other hand, because the ‘Giant blue beast’ is not necessarily connected with the sky linguistically it need not represent the sky to the reader. If I choose to think that a ‘Giant blue beast’ appears out of the forest I am free to do so. Or not as the case might be – don’t really imagine that at all. I suspend judgement, live in uncertainty – and that’s a good place for a haiku-reader to be, I think.

    I rather like

    clouds –
    a striped and spotted sky
    giant, blue beast

    I hope this makes sense! Colin

    Like

    1. Thank you so much! What you wrote does make sense. I like the poem so much better now the way you worded it here. I really appreciate your taking the time to look it over. Who knows? I may even try to write some more! 🙂 Thanks again!

      Like

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