Here’s another hundred haiku—that’s three hundred posted to Facebook since January 1st 2012.
Meanwhile the dreadful lurch towards so-called ‘Modern Haiku’ continues and seems likely to act as a virus in the wrinkles of the human brain.
My own approach to haiku is that these little three-line poems come from a different place in the human frame. They somehow descend upon one, come into being without conscious thought or construction; they come from a moment when one exists in ‘pure being’—a very mysterious idea for anybody who’s never been there. One simple explanation is that the ‘place’ is managed by the right side of the brain. It may be comforting to know that there really are ways of getting there: it’s possible to set up exercises that will tell you which side of the brain you are operating in. For example, what do you see here? Probably the silhouette of a man’s face looking to the left which you can name the parts of—hair, forehead, eyebrows, nose, mouth with moustache and small beard—that’s the left brain at work. The neck is rather odd… Now find another way of seeing what’s there!Then flip between the two—that’s the ability to shift between the two parts of the brain.
Real haiku come from the right side of the brain—they really would rather do without words. So-called ‘modern’, or gendai, haiku seem to me to come from the left-hand side of the brain—so laden down with words and ideas, thought-out, even while they appear to be a studied kind of nonsense.
In my final editorial for Blithe Spirit, journal of The British Haiku Society, I wondered what the response to so-called ‘modern haiku’ should be…
We could just sling our hook in with the school of ‘anything will do’ & go with the common flow, simply following the fashion: anything that’s called a haiku is ipso facto a haiku.
pissing the cats
We could say that an abortion like this betokens the development of a new poetic that ought perhaps to be called something other than ‘haiku’; this whatever-you-want-to-call-it could well be something nearly one hundred years out of date which would have looked good in a Dada manifesto.
Or we could lose our sense of self in slavishly following the latest putative ‘authority’ figure (like Richard Gilbert), who asserts that such things are the haiku of the future.
We could take some pleasure in just breaking the ‘rules’ for the sake of it, espousing experimentation as though it were a very brave and exciting thing to do. Or we might make some claim to being highly original or even of going back to what are now, apparently, coming to be considered as first principles—that Bashō was not really there when the frog jumped into the pond but sitting at his desk, imagining what had caused the splash. The most modern up-to-date argument is that haiku come from that kind of ‘consciousness’. I regard this as literary empire-building on the part of those who do not understand the provenance of ‘real haiku’ but wish to corner a market or make a name for themselves in haiku circles.
At the British Haiku Society Spring Gathering in Ludlow in May 2012, I used the following diagram to introduce a workshop during which the participants were invited to sort a range of what might be considered to be ‘haiku’ into two groups—creative/imaginative and from experience. Of course, the only thing that the contents of both groups had in common was that they were expressed in words.
Now, all words are invented—metaphors in the literal sense of the term: they stand over against all that stuff that goes on outside us; the difference between the two groups was that one was mind-born while the other was mind-recorded. One can feel the difference; the unique thing about real haiku is that their words can obstruct; created ‘haiku’ are just a trick made out of words:-
a pair of scissors
Easy to scribble down such things which at Ludlow should have appeared in the first group—mind-born, imaginative haiku rather than haiku born of experience in the present moment. So there are two extremes, which can be depicted on either side of a pendulum swing (a useful metaphor in the Gurdjieff canon):-
Diachronically, the pendulum has swung to the left of this diagram. This countfeit direction leads to something like Bones—a journal for new haiku—grit your teeth & Google it!—to be produced by Alan Summers & Sheila Windsor. It will look for Gendai haiku/New haiku—haiku written for the 21st century [sic] and based on cultural, linguistic and historic reality… The editors ask: ‘…What is haiku in the 21st century and what can it become if it’s not to fall in with the carpet [sic] and be a neat little thing you do with your left hand and read on get-well-cards? … if it’s not to repeat the already repeated stuff [sic]…’
I just do not know what the difference could possibly be between this century and the last one—it all feels pretty much the same to me, same old bombs dropping, same old political lies and religious bigotry. Why does the 21st Century require anything different from the old one? The extreme danger is that people coming new to haiku will imagine that all this strained and artless novelty is what haiku is about.
What also remains the same is human sensitivity to the small extraordinary ordinary things in life of which there are still so many trillions of examples available to the awakened soul that there need never be any ‘repeated stuff’.
As an antidote, and to allow for a settling at the bottom of the pendulum swing, I’d recommend a brilliant essay by Jon Baldwin that will appear in Modern Haiku entitled ‘Qualities of Haiku’ with reference to Roland Barthes. ‘As a sensibility,’ concludes Jon, ‘[haiku] stands in stark contrast to the machinations of life under neo-liberalism, late capitalism, post-modernity, or whatever label we want to attach to our disenchanted age and troubled times…’ Gendai wotsits strike this editor as abject capitulation to those times. True haiku poetry, as the ‘practice of subtlety in a barbaric world, emerges as an island of resistance…’ (Jon Baldwin, op cit)
This is where I stand and I’m unlikely to shift since real haiku have become a way of life for me.
Here are the next lot of One Hundred Haiku, taking the total this year so far to 300. There must be 58 days to Xmas…
the haiku-writer writes
the second hand
in the glass behind him
the speaker talks out of
the back of his neck
playing hockey where King Harold
was shot in the eye
(for Clara Gutierrez)
long-tailed & crazy-gold
with autumn sunlight
the sound of leaves
tossed out of dream—
the window frames
landscape with rain
tossing & turning
to the sound of midnight rain
on the black garden
the tortoiseshell cat
purring for a haiku stroke
the owner’s long absences
insomniac & the teeming
of dark images
all summer waiting for
the long bright days of youth—
once more I miss it
in my library—
all the books
I’ll never open again
over the Common—
slope down to the setting sun
with silver birches
fog on a journey:
under each bridge
an archway of fog
through the open window
a couple of cats sprawled
on an autumn mat
her new friend
takes her out of her self;
returns me to mine
seven hours supine;
moon shadows porcelain ducks
on my wndowsill
the old book
its tattered pages
nailed to my masthead
Another sixty-five haiku to complete a year…
8 thoughts on “Another Hundred Haiku”
Amazing how you can express so much within so few words. I tend to wax or wane eloquent!
My friend Chris White wrote this:-
Hi Colin. Not had the chance to read the whole thing, but read some and regarding the concluding part which references Jon Baldwin and the question of the need to keep creating new / novel takes on haiku (or whatever really!): lately I’ve been thinking about something Gary Snyder writes in his book The Practice of the Wild:
“The occidental approach to the arts—since the rise of the bourgeoisie, if we like—is to downplay the aspect of accomplishment and push everyone to be continually doing something new. This puts a considerable burden on the workers of every generation, a double burden since they think they must dismiss the work of the generation before and then do something supposedly better and different. The emphasis on mastering the tools, on repetitive practice and training, has become very slight. In a society that follows tradition, creativity is understood as something that comes almost by accident, is unpredictable, and is a gift to certain individuals only. It cannot be programmed into the curriculum. It is better in small quantities. We should be grateful when it comes along, but don’t count on it. Then when it does appear it’s the real thing. It takes a powerful impulse for a student-apprentice who has been told for eight or ten years to “always do what was done before,” as in the production tradition of folk pottery, to turn it a new way. What happens then? The old guys in this tradition look and say, “Ha! You did something new! Good for you!””
The point really being that doing an extremely good, skilled job is the real accomplishment and where the meat lies. Not in the ability to keep developing new things at a rate of knots. (The point is made elsewhere in the chapter but I can’t find it right now and don’t have time to keep searching!). The book’s a great read if you haven’t already come across it. I’m sure you’d find so much in there to agree with and to thoughtfully disagree with!
Mastering by repetitive practice…
You are not alone in despairing the look of haiku nowadays, I’ve often despaired of the awful badly written doggerel and/or jokey verses that are labelled haiku just because they have 17 English-language syllables. The fact that the pieces are not good prose or poetry, and have no interest in good line breaks or enjambment, appears irrelevant to the majority of these writers, and their readers.
I often feel that they need to be approached and encouraged to enter dialogue than those who acknowledge the history and culture of haiku and experiment with new approaches to haiku.
Like most serious haiku writers I have written numerous haiku that follow what we presume is a tradition, although there isn’t, surely, a tradition of English-language haiku, like the Japanese one? Even the Japanese tradition was interrupted by Shiki and Kyoshi, and perhaps they are finding their way out of that episode?
At present there appears to be a strong desire to move away from shasei-led haiku in the West (and Japan), so both what Shiki started when he invented the term haiku for these little poems, is under not just scrutiny but even possibly attack, possibly as Kyoshi continued the idea of shasei practice in an aggressive manner,
It’s not just gendai haiku that holds people into strong feelings akin to repulsion. Gendai haiku comes out of a movement refusing to embrace Japan’s entry into the Second World War, there were many New Rising Movement haiku poets in Japan that were torture/murdered by the authorities. The authorities were obviously alarmed that a literally enforced repetitive stricture, backed up a threat of imprisonment if they strayed from the old ways of haiku, was under threat, and so adding torture, and death from injuries was seen as required.
I sincerely hope there is not a move now to endorse the murder of humans nowadays simply because they are perceived as murdering haiku in its current perceived shape and form? Surely that’s a step too far? Though that nearly happened in a certain country within Europe, at the latter end of the last century, so not that long ago. Secret police were again used to take poets away for not writing haiku a certain way.
I have countless haiku that follow a perceived enforced patten in the West, and even write 575 English-language haiku e.g.
another hot day
a leaking water pipe stopped
by the jackdaw’s beak
Honourable Mention, 14th Mainichi Haiku Contest (2010)
the moon is broken
Battersea Power Station
from a train window
Award credit: 1st Prize, World Monuments Fund 2012 Haiku Contest
And this article promotes the use of a kigo as a still valid device in haiku:
Travelling the thin white expanse #1:
A fold in the paper
Kire and kigo in haiku
So with great trepidation, would your readers appreciate these approaches to haiku, or hate them?
Except for the first three poems, all the others appear in my gendai haiku and experimental verse collection Does Fish-God Know (YTBN Press 2012):
my hundred autumn rooms
to be alone
the scarecrow worries
a loose thread
rain on the river–
when does white become
its darkest colour
the young vagrant
sucks a thumb
a dog’s deposit
snowfall she takes her daffodils Underground
the railing spikes collect
place of fire
this part of the Novel
becomes my navel
I force the hotel window
a little wider
heavy on your knee
breaking the water surface
its shut eye
of the roadside cat
the stagnant chill
the mermaid’s kiss
i become a fish
the sky darkens then lightens
unlacing the shoe
on his sole
mud from the gravesite
in the mist
powdered snow –
a crow’s eyes above
the no parking sign
the drunk looks deep
within his shoe
I pluck its colors
to create my own state
also parted in death
a ladybird’s wings
These are just a fraction of the work in my collection, and there are more experimental work included in the work.
My embrace of styles and tradtions also includes being a recently invited moderator for The Hokku Tradition site (FB), and author of the soon to be launched The Kigo Lab. A little about that traditional, and once seen core feature, and soul of haiku can be read here:
Although I’m perhaps seen as a gendai haiku writer, and in some quarters as part of a possible new wave of writers, I’ve long written, and continue to write, the type of haiku written in the West through the 1990s to present.
Without the incredible support of Colin Blundell this collection would not have seen the light of day. An editor’s support for an emerging writer can never be applauded enough.
—— * ——
I don’t think anybody is suggesting torture [yet] for the act of writing a thing like this and calling it ‘haiku’:-
bed defective pardon
It’s just a hundred years out of date, very old hat – the Dadaists did it much better & for a specific reason.
bicycle inner tube
cockroaches & drinking straw
You just have to pluck stuff out of thin air and stick it down on paper. Some fool editor will go for it.
And the danger is that this kind of nonsense will catch on as haiku is gradually dumbed down with everything else one holds sacred.
The argument for me is as I’ve set it out above. ‘Proper haiku’ come from a different place in the human psyche.
FIRST DUTY OF A HAIKU NEOPHYTE IS TO DISCOVER THE PLACE
It’s not, I think, a matter of dabbling in what seem to be different ways of writing ‘haiku’ – it’s more a matter of discovering the sensibility that’s needed for unveiling the sublime specificity of very ordinary things. I’ve thought for a long time that merely ‘clever’ haiku are not very interesting.
A not-that-experimental haiku like your
I pluck its colours
to create my own state
is a good way of slightly bending or extending the state & function of ‘proper haiku’ – it just lives on the borderline between ‘thought’ and the way things are (‘played on a blue guitar’). But it’s not for beginners, I’d suggest.
Otherwise it’s a matter of baby & bathwater.
Colin, what an ambitious project and now I see you have your finger in yet another creative pie … well, no finger, with you it’s jumping right in, full body – eh?
I’m not sure I follow the entire discussion. I don’t care for Gilbert, per se – but I don’t mind new spins. I think it depends on who does the spinning and how well. On the other hand, there is something to be said for tradition and the practice of tradition and working on things until we come to perfection/completion – they come from the same root, did you know?
I like your diagrams. Good teaching tools.
Well, and now I’m rambling as it is 11 p.m. here and has been a long day. I can’t say I’ve read this many haiku at one time … new experience for me. Enjoyed. I like the girl whose sweater sleeves are too long. Mine always are …
Happy days and blog on, Colon.
Thanks for the comments Jamie!
This is a random example of the New Spin:-
bed defective pardon
This is a 3-liner that might have been respectable a hundred years ago in a Dada Manifesto. It’s so old hat as to be laughable! And they think they’re so up to date!
Colin, I really enjoy your haiku. Tonight, especially……
playing hockey where King Harold
was shot in the eye
(for Clara Gutierrez)
It is full of love and place. Thank you for sharing your deep appreciation for ordinary life, with us all! your friend-bob kay
Just popping by to see what I might have missed. This caught my eye again:
in my library—
all the books
I’ll never open again
My library too. I’ve been shedding books as I continue to downsize my housing, but there are a few – that thought I might never read them again – I feel compelled to keep. They’re like old friends. I just don’t want to give them up.