Haiku Consciousness and Ceramic Ducks (R12+)

Discovering Haiku

I arrived at haiku sometime in the 1960’s while I was reading Alan Watts’ The Way of Zen. I was very drawn to his argument that went something like this: in Western philosophy (and, as a result, pervasive throughout western thinking processes) there’s a habitual cognitive dichotomy between thinker and thing-thought, between mind and body, between observer and whatever is observed; in Zen, he asserted, there is no such dichotomy – there is simply an experiencing, just like that, as the great British comedian Tommy Cooper used to say. I have never wavered from the idea that haiku is the expression, not of a dichotomous thought-out experience, but of an experiencing – of a verb not a noun.

Test it! Look at the words you’re reading now and notice that the words on the page are separate from what you imagine is happening in your mind, your reconstruction of ‘meaning’ – you as an observer and the last paragraph, for instance… Now, get rid of that and just be a ‘reading’. This will require practice. It’s as though you and the words somehow have become one; writing a haiku, you become the tree or the landscape, sun or sea; they become you; the haiku writes you…

Sorry, My Mistake…

But now, anyway, though I find it cognitively unsettling, at least as far as haiku are concerned, it turns out that I have been misguided all along – the source of my initial guidance was challenged a few years ago by the influential Haruo Shirane (for instance in Modern Haiku, XXXI:1 2000) who refers to the way Western notions of haiku – a few words resulting from ‘being in the moment’ – have been skewed by Shiki’s emphasis on ‘the sketch (shasei) based on direct observation of the subject [without the intervention of ‘intellect’] as the key to the composition of the modern haiku’. Those who have nothing better to do than to allocate writers to artistic movements as though it were the answer to a maiden’s dream tell us that Shiki (d 1902) was a ‘realist’ in that he believed that poetry was an expression of the individual rather than being an incidental contribution to an intellectual literary game. Shiki’s realism just happened to coincide with the birth of Western ‘Imagism’ at the beginning of the 20th Century; so Shiki’s view of haiku, so they say, can be dismissed because it was taken on board as an aspect of imagism and haiku has been represented in the West as being part of the same movement. Realism, it seems, is to be regarded as dead & gone.

In a very thoughtful review of Gilbert’s Poems of Consciousness, Randy Brooks (Modern Haiku Volume 40.1 Winter 2009) refers to Hasegawa Kai’s condemnation of what he calls ‘junk haiku’ – these are ‘… verses that have become predictable and stagnant owing to the influence of Western realism, haiku compositions based only upon those things you have directly seen…’ What’s the alternative? Hasegawa Kai calls for haiku with the kind of ‘…cutting which cuts a haiku from this reality within which we live…’

deep winter
within the pillar
the rushing of waves

There’s certainly a degree of alienation here! How can we account for the construction of such a haiku? I imagine the writer’s conscious thought process: “Ah, brrrrrr… snow and bitter cold – I observe that it’s what might be called ‘deep winter’ – I write that down but because I’m of the new dispensation I must think of a way of resisting making reference to what would normally follow this (snow, mist, trees full of frost etc) – to take readers beyond the ordinary sense of ‘reality’ – to dumbfound them with something stunningly different so they have to really exercise their imagination: so,” says the poet, “I think of the new pillar outside my front door and I hear the wind which reminds me of the sound of waves…” This is a good example of pure ‘intellect’, a species of ‘consciousness’, at work…

My understanding is that this intrusion of thinking (loosely called ‘consciousness’) is justifiable by reference to contemporary accounts, quoted with apparent relish by Gilbert, of how Bashō’s frog/pond/plop haiku came into being: “Here I am sitting at my desk,” Bashō might have said, “…in my hut – I hear the plop of a frog in the distance – I know there’s a pond outside so I’ll construct a haiku out of my thinking process… And I will draw on past experience of ponds and typical frog behaviour…”

Haiku as Literary Construct?

Thus the essence of the ‘Modern Haiku’ movement seems to be that a haiku is a ‘literary construct’ rather than a direct expression of Being in the world. During the British Haiku Society 2013 AGM I presented a way of constructing what, in a Ludlow moment of bright & memorable humour, Martin Lucas and I decided to call ‘knotweed hycoo’ out of random words written on separate bits of card to be assembled like a disjunctive jigsaw. For a brief example, here is a very small fraction of the word-list I presented:-

highly strung, butterflies, immense, startling, thirty-two, Quaker, physique, concerns, tortures, mistaken, days, reason, pointed, bathroom, approach, starlings, hiding, market, marble, afternoon, happy, callousness, nothing, figure, fastness, expedition, escape, monotonous, ilex, incognito, purple

and so on…

The instruction was to let the list linger in the head and then consciously arrange the cards to make a hycoo, using any little joining words you liked, thus, maybe:-

the callous reason of
thirty-two purple starlings
in a marble bathroom

monotonous expedition:
figure with a happy physique
on a market day

These are ‘knotweed hycoo’ – spreading around the globe with the insidious quality of Japanese knotweed, undermining the edifice we apparent throwbacks call the house of ‘haiku’. At the AGM I posed the question of whether, through its journal, Blithe Spirit, the BHS, one of whose aims is to act as upholder of standards in haiku-writing, should make a principled stand against so-called ‘modern’ trends; to make energetic resistence to what I suppose is part of the general post-modernist trend to exterminate the past. I still think an answer is required.

Focusing on the Here & Now

As a contribution to the discussion we might begin by asking the question: What exactly does it mean ‘to focus on the here & now’? It’s clear from many of Bashō’s examples that ‘here & now’ can of necessity encapsulate past & future; it’s a researched fact that our neurons are by no means neutral.

What happens in the here-&-now-mind cannot possibly not contain reference to memories and prognostications; just as awareness in ‘the present moment’ constantly strays backwards & forwards into what we choose to call ‘past’ & ‘future’ so haiku-expression moves subtly into these areas while remaining conceptually ‘in the present’ – they can create new ways of mentally reconstructing the universe, as in this well-known example:-

summer grasses –
traces of dreams
of ancient warriors

As readers we are presented with what is for us a present moment – we are in some corner of a foreign field; there’s grass growing on ground where the glorious dead are buried; the simple observation with its not too extravagant corollary has the effect of extending our world, of modifying our feeling for grass. If poetry is not ‘the renovation of experience’ (William Carlos Williams) it’s a waste of space, in my humble opinion. (“That’s the very last thing you are, ‘humble’…” says my wife over my shoulder). A ‘so-what’ haiku is one that fails to renovate experience in some way.

Haiku as Intellectual Construction

It seems that we have come full circle: according to Haruo Shirane, before Bashō haiku was fictional, an intellectual construction. He provides this 17th Century example:-

making sea lions and whales
swim in the cherry blossom waves
at the hill top

This is a hycoo that would not be out of place in an anthology of so-called ‘gendai’ poems. Shirane writes that ‘…Bashō was one of the critics of this kind of ‘nonsense’ haiku. He believed that haiku should describe the world ‘as it is’ [not denying fiction which] can be very realistic and even more real than life itself…’ Thus haiku can be ‘something born of the imagination’ which Shirane says is ‘about the ability to move from one world to another…’ ‘…entering into the past, meeting the spirits of the dead, experiencing what poetic and spiritual predecessors had experienced’ while remaining ‘faithful to the original experience…’ in the moment, as in the ‘summer grasses’ example. We might then ask – What exactly is the abstraction ‘imagination’? How does it work? It could be argued that imagination is nothing other than awareness in ‘the present moment’ constantly straying backwards & forwards into what we choose to call ‘past’ & ‘future’, connecting things up together, and making a response to the essential spirit in things.

Models for Thinking

Shirane famously proposed two key axes: one horizontal, the present, the contemporary world; and the other vertical, leading back into the past, to history, to memory, to other poems. ‘…To work only in the present would result in poetry that was fleeting. To work just in the past, on the other hand, would be to fall out of touch with the fundamental nature of haiku, which is rooted in the everyday world…’

For me, these axes are the wrong way round. Shirane’s axes disturb my way of thinking. My own horizontal axis represents tick-tock time, time forwards & backwards forever; the vertical axis is oneself in the here & now, one’s I, being a haiku deriving in some way from tick-tock time, by allusion to or conversation about things that happened, places visited, accumulated experiencing, in past or future rediscovered in the present – the ‘haiku moment’ – the utterly timeless moment when a haiku comes into being.


The Death of Realism?

Richard Gilbert quotes Hoshinaga Fumio approvingly: ‘realism was a brief, temporary movement’… He asserts, for some undefined reason, that it’s necessary to incorporate modern movements that followed imagism – ‘cubism, surrealism, dada’ in some postmodernist hycooic mélange. ‘Right you are if you think so’ as Pirandello said. Gilbert is of the opinion that haiku is a naturally ‘modern’ phenomenon and I suppose that’s true because it has always been what’s called an ‘open’ text – it leaves space for reader participation which is typical of modern films that just end unexpectedly or, in music, Cage’s 4.33.

Hasagawa Kai talks about ma ‘empty space’ – a moment of psychological silence – a concept supposedly unique to Japanese culture. In haiku, he says, ma conveys feeling without expressing it: ‘…it is what is not put into words that is important… Haiku is literature created jointly by the poet and the reader. A Western poem is the product of the poet alone, and thus… the way of thinking about haiku is different…’ It’s true that we do not have a word representing the concept of ma but Hasagawa Kai has obviously not heard of the plays of Harold Pinter with their deliberate pregnant pauses; it’s no stretch of western sensibility to understand that it’s what’s left out of a haiku that’s important; the words are merely a hint of something more profound which the reader may or may not pick up.

And there’s no need or reason to bolt on to haiku every fad & fancy that comes along in the ‘modern’ or ‘post-modern’ zeitgeist to fill a ma with bizarre images.

It’s exactly as Gilbert says: ‘…gendai Japanese haiku exhibit many of the principles, theories and techniques found in modern poetry or modern arts generally…’ In other words they have simply taken over 20th Century western movements and become what, because of our inheritance, most of us would not call ‘haiku’ at all. The fundamental question is – why should haiku incorporate ‘principles, theories and techniques found in modern poetry or modern arts’? One person’s say-so is not sufficient. The only obvious thing they preserve from the past is brevity.

walrus with its mouth wide open war statistics

a drowning man
pulled into violet worlds
grasping hydrangea

to die
in a hippo’s jaws –
the lettuce’s bliss

Avoided the Meaning and Missed the Experience

I wonder if individual reference to a ‘haiku moment’ has fallen into a state of zealous approbrium because those who reject it have never had the experience and, what’s worse, have no strategy for arriving there – they are therefore obliged to invent some other way of producing what looks vaguely like the haiku-form; it might be all too easy for such unfortunates to bolt on ‘surrealism’ or ‘dadaism’ to it. But it’s so old hat – a harking back to the 1920’s, excitingly new then but now nearly a hundred years past its sell-by date. Gilbert says he finds ‘…modern haiku to be tremendously exciting, profound and fresh…’ On the contrary, I find their imagery simply old hat though still of course acceptable in general as a hilarious jolt to the system as in, for example, the films of Luis Bunuel.


Another question we might ask about ‘knotweed hycoo’ is – what is ‘consciousness’? Blithely to call haiku ‘poems of consciousness’ is to beg the question of what we understand as ‘consciousness’. Gilbert says that ‘…conscious experience itself has not yet been demonstrably elucidated – there is so much we experience and feel which remains immeasurable…’, but he seems to take the word ‘consciousness’ for granted. It might be ‘the human faculty which thinks’ or ‘the capacity for engaging in intellectual construction’, ‘neuronal activity’, ‘mental gymnastics’. If it’s anything, ordinary consciousness is probably something akin to any or all of these periphrastic notions: you imagine, for example, that you are ‘conscious’ and awake just by virtue of reading these words; I imagine, of course, that I am ‘conscious’ and fully awake as I write them.

But consider for a moment that there’s a different kind of Consciousness – one with an upper case ‘C’ to indicate that it transcends ordinary consciousness by a long chalk; it’s a certain something in us that’s vitally awake, full of life and energy if only we could grasp it. On the one hand, paradoxically, it’s a dry nothingness at the centre of our being; on the other hand it’s the name for an invented construct of the human imagination. We are so overwhelmed by the idea of listing its limitless possibilities in nothingness that we settle for using the word ‘consciousness’ and hope that everybody will know what we mean. ‘Consciousness’ is dodgy shorthand for a huge systemic process: here’s a snapshot of a little bit of it:-


How does this apply to writing (and reading) haiku? Here’s a ho-hum haiku I wrote recently:-

four ceramic ducks
lined up on a window-sill –
my life museum

In a system you can start where you like; everything is connected: in this case I started at the top – I saw the ducks, I heard an outline history of their past inside me and consequently I feel for these inanimate things – the cognitive taste of them, quite without the smell that would accompany the real feathered model – contrast of solid objects & squawking reality; I pause to note that all this merges in a moment of synaesthesia. Occupying my left brain I could go on analysing thus but I slip into the pattern produced by my right brain which seems to embrace wider issues: I reconstruct a duck-past and remember when I bought them one by one going back to the department store four times in acquisitive mode; there’s a growing feeling of something indescribably special about the words on the base – ‘Jaipur, made in Taiwan’; I recall a bit of research (Finesmith 1959) which, consequent upon the attachment of wires to fingers, shows up a psycho-galvanic skin response to anything you care to think of – all objects, words, ideas, thoughts, have emotional connections – then ma, space for thought, mirror of the infinite space within… I am reminded of all the things I’ve hoarded in this museum of a house where I live – they are a part of who I am – hence the last line that helps to construct a haiku which may (or may not) resonate with the reader’s own hoarding proclivities, or lack of them.

This last paragraph took 15 minutes to write out, longer to think about; it’s a left-brain drawn out re-construction of a moment of Consciousness; doing the circuit round the systemic process represented in the diagram took a split second when the haiku wrote me – I’m used to the system. It’s a strategy for arriving at a ‘haiku moment’. It can be learned; it becomes second nature; once learned it has to be forgotten. There’s no dichotomy – no divided system and working the system.

True Consciousness is a whizz round the cognitive system without getting stuck in any particular bit of it.

I’ll probably reject the ‘duck’ haiku – it seems to be too much the result of ‘thought’ and it lacks Martin Lucas’s ‘Poetic Spell’.

7 thoughts on “Haiku Consciousness and Ceramic Ducks (R12+)

  1. Hi Colin, lovely to see another post 🙂

    I have a few thoughts and comments.

    Firstly, on Gilbert’s use of the term “consciousness”: it’s been a while since I read the book but I recall at the time thinking that his use of that word was quite erratic. He seemed to want to use it as a single defined thing, but actually often used it with varying meanings. This conflation of meanings certainly didn’t do the book any favours. His central thesis seemed to revolve around the computational sense of consciousness, but then he would drag into it the pure sense of consciousness, the sea within which all of this goes on, the silent witness or what have you (which certainly has a place in conceptualising haiku, but didn’t seem to fit at all with what he was trying to do in that book).

    Regarding what’s going on in some of the so-called “gendai” haiku, I think there is an attempt (perhaps frequently gone off course from) to treat the interior equally with the exterior, or to actually treat the interior as exterior (albeit an exterior that only the writer can have direct experience of) – perhaps one might say it is turning the interior inside out… But what I mean is that they attempt to do haiku just in the way we’re accustomed to but addressing not just objects of the conventionally understood exterior world (the shared world) but also objects of the interior (made exterior / treated as exterior) world. As in, looking at words as objects for example. So not treating the word “and” as a conjunctive with semantic purpose, but treating it as just this mysterious entity “and”, a series of sounds and shapes that are sometimes present in the mind just as a tree is sometimes present in the mind (whether it happens to be because it is right there in front of you or because you recall one that had once been in front of you). Sure that’s not what’s happening in all cases, but I think in some it is. And if it’s not, perhaps it should be. What do you think? I’m not advocating that haiku such as these should be the only kind of haiku, or that the more conventionally styled haiku should have to change or are old-hat or no use, just making an observation really.


    1. Yes, Gilbert’s linguistic contortions do leave much to be desired – especially when he comes to a definition of consciousness. I’ve given his book away and so I can’t check what he said (or didn’t say) in detail – nor would I now have the stomach for it.

      Though I sometimes use books from one of my well & truly bygone eras as logs for the fire, I usually hoard them so giving a book away is an indicator…

      What is interesting in your second paragraph is something I certainly have pondered. And here’s a bit more pondering…

      the subtle tenure of leaves
      tournament of gravestones

      Leaves outside my window = the real world, my contemplation of it; ‘subtle tenure’ came spontaneously from my inner world (something which could be to do with their intense holding on/up against encroaching autumn) and I’ve no idea why ‘tournament of gravestones’ cropped up except that I saw the word ‘tournament’ while I was looking up ‘tenure’ in the dictionary… The whole of this hycoo can be seen as words as ‘objects of the interior’, as you say, in the here and now. That’s very true. They came from my neuronic mishmash (=something productive of what we choose to call ‘consciousness’ – an invention/abstraction).

      Intellectually, after the event, I realise that the hycoo captures something of the spirit of contrast that Shiki advises – the fragility of leaves versus the solidity of gravestones. Autumn, winter & death & myself holding on for dear life…

      Its legitimacy as whatever-one-wants-to-call-it is dependent, it seems to me, in Gilbert’s terms, on the say-so of the Basho contemporary who asserted that frog-pond-plop was what used to be called a ‘desk haiku’.

      Now then… I wonder what the difference is between the way I constructed the above hycoo and the haiku I posted on Farcebook a couple of days ago:-

      final words
      under a canopy
      of sunlit clematis

      The neuronic mishmash is capable of throwing all sorts of things up just like that, eg

      old bus ticket
      from a slim wooden holder –
      eloquent book-mark

      (split second stuff, coming from nowhere (somewhere) as I was writing – only capable of comprehension, I suppose, to one who travelled on London Passenger Transport Omnibuses some years pre-1960)

      ‘final words’ may seem to come from the here and now but it’s actually a memory-image from about August 2006 from out of the neuronal mishmash ; while ‘bookmark’ has no date to it – I happen to know that if I searched hard enough through my library I’d find the very book that has an old (proper) bus ticket from the 1950’s with destinations written on it and a hole punched where you had to get off. Those really were the days! (Oh god! where is it? – I could scan it in!)

      So these two haiku are constructions in pretty much the same way existentially as ‘tenure of leaves’.

      Hmmm… it’s all consciousness. But in the Gurdjieff canon there’s consciousness – when we like to think we’re awake etc – ratiocination, separate parts of the psyche operating separately – and there’s capital C Consciousness with everything fizzing together depicted systemically at the end of this Glob.

      My Grumpy-Old-Git-I says that true haiku come from Consciousness. Knotweed Hycoo come from just one part of Being, viz thinking-consciousness. They should be exetrminated before their roots infect the solid foundations of the House of Haiku.



      So you & Ruth did your honeymoon first, I notice!


  2. Hi Colin! Yes, the 12 month honeymoon in 2012 😉 Actually there are questions about whether we might give that another go, perhaps for less time though there’d not necessarily be any reason to fix a time frame in advance. Pros and cons. There are various pressures that mean a decision on this in the near future is probably going to mean a decision on this for a number of years. Time will tell.

    I have been thinking for some time that there might be another way to go about discussing haiku, which would be a little bit like the way we go about discussing poetry in general. And that is to say that all these various things can be called haiku, but some are better haiku, or more serious haiku, the haiku-ists’ haiku and so on. With poetry in general we accept that there is doggerel, simple rhyming verse and so on all the way to writings like Whitman’s, or Oppen’s, or Snyder’s, or Shelley’s, Pound’s etc. And what we would be arguing for is within that broader context the continued drive to create/maintain haiku that are serious poetry and not just doggerel, but also to showcase haiku of “Consciousness” in your Gurdjieffian sense as haiku par excellence. And I do think there is a case for that, though some of a post-modern bent might deny that such a thing as “Consciousness” exists or can be spoken of, and so they would want to challenge that notion.

    As an aside, when I speak of consciousness I think I am defining it pretty much as what you speak of as our inner nothingness. Whereas it seems like for you “Consciousness” might be something more of an activity, but a shift from purely though-based activity (small-c consciousness for you I believe) to feeling-moving-thinking-centred-Being-process… Just in case there is any talking cross-purpose I thought I’d put this out there. If I recall, Gilbert seems to confuse your small-c consciousness with your inner nothingness, which seems nigh impossible! Except for the fact that they share the name of consciousness in other parlance and a not careful understanding of either could perhaps therefore easily lead to assumptions that somehow they are part of the same thing.

    I’ve been reading Jacob Needleman’s book Lost Christianity. I’m about a 3rd of the way through and enjoying it immensely. It got me wondering whether what a good haiku does is, as he puts it, brings us to that state of feeling that lies beyond emotion? And that state is also dependent on an awareness of one’s “inner nothingness” (or consciousness as I would put it). So that perhaps the “opening” a haiku creates brings to the fore the inner nothingness which is the space within which feeling rather than emotion is able to happen? I already had the idea that the opening in haiku foregrounded inner nothingness/consciousness, but find that Needleman’s notion of feeling that is beyond emotion seems to build on that nicely to fill out the haiku reading/writing end experience.

    THe spot outdoors where I escape from the office at lunch is currently being mown down by various construction vehicles. Very sad. Bloody bastards destroying all that habitat for so much life and taking away that peaceful space I go to…


  3. Hi Colin,

    This latest glob leaves me somewhat at a loss, having only one experience of haiku in all my years of reading. And it’s a sad one – a good friend, Eric, the husband of my wife’s oldest friend, came down with brain cancer nearly 20 years ago, and died of the disease a few months short of his 36th birthday, in March of 1997, leaving behind his wife and two young daughters. During the last two years of his illness, he took to writing haikus, which his family collected into a self-published book after his death. It’s one of our treasured possessions. I don’t know for sure what Eric would have made of your discussion above, but my guess is that, with his keen awareness of the fleeting nature of life, he would have agreed with you that the haiku should be the product of present-moment consciousness, and not an intellectual exercise. Here is the haiku that the family chose to be the closing piece of the collection ….

    The clock moves too fast
    Ticking away precious time
    Quick! Let’s have some fun



    1. That’s nice, Tom, & goes way way beyond my arid discussion of haiku ‘politics’.

      It strikes me that your friend might have gone beyond ordinary what-we-call emotion into the higher state of a purity of feeling that Gurdjieff describes as the Higher Emotional state of Being parallel with Higher Intellectual state = pure objective thinking. These are the characteristics of the dedicated haiku-writer in my estimation.

      Thanks for sharing.



  4. Chris –
    I’m not sure that that’s not what we have already: doggerel-hycoo, rhyming-hycoo, surreal-hycoo, spam-hycoo, gendai-hycoo. To put them on some scale of imperfection might confer legitimacy? I wonder. ‘True haiku’ seem to me to come from a special state of Being. Jacob Needleman’s concept of a feeling beyond emotion probably derives from the Fourth Way idea of the state of Higher Emotion allied with that of Higher Intellect which are notional stages beyond our ordinary everyday concepts of emotion & thinking and contain the idea of Conscious Objectivity. When it is said that haiku should present feeling but not express it, I think this is what’s being driven at. Gurdjieff says that until you realise you are nothing going nowhere you can make no progress; Meister Eckhart points out that knowing, doing, being nothing gets you close to God which for me is the something-infinitely-larger than ‘I’ am.

    For me the quick whizz round the systemic circuit at the end of this Glob gets you to a state of Nothingness. Actually, ‘true haiku’ is a rubbish term; I just comprehend the product of being aware of being in a state of Nothingness as a something-or-other (Gurdjieff’s way of avoiding wording) that could be called ‘haiku’ as a shorthand: a quick collecting together of the linguistic (thinking) result of being there.

    Philosophically, I think that the concept ‘consciousness’ is an invention/abstraction – and as is the case with all words, but I’d argue often dangerously with abstractions, if there’s a word we imagine that there has to be a referent. Though it’s still just a word, I’m very comfortable with what ‘Nothingness’ represents for me (aha!) and happy with the idea of an inner emptiness, or Lawrentian darkness, and would prefer in my thinking process to do without consciousness or Consciousness completely. Nothingness can always be filled with somethingness for the time being; that way one avoids identification with whatever the somethingness might be (sunset or Iraq missiles etc). Everything is just for a temporary pondering.

    You say ‘…when I speak of consciousness I think I am defining it pretty much as what you speak of as our inner nothingness. Whereas it seems like for you “Consciousness” might be something more of an activity, but a shift from purely though-based activity (small-c consciousness for you I believe) to feeling-moving-thinking-centred-Being-process…’

    Just to be absolutely precise, the Nothingness one might choose to call ‘Consciousness’ (or vice-versa) seems to me to be an empty-space-state which can result from going round the circuit at the end of my Glob at 40 cps, the brain function said to get one to ‘spiritual intelligence’ (Danah Zohar p75 in a book called exactly that…)

    All this is missing from Gilbert. He just blithely refers to ‘consciousness’ as though it was quite clear what it means. Which it isn’t.

    Jacob Needleman’s brilliant. But I haven’t read Lost Christianity. I agree, as intimated above, that ‘…a good haiku … brings us to that state of feeling that lies beyond emotion… [a] state… dependent on an awareness of one’s ‘inner nothingness’… [which] is the space within which feeling rather than emotion is able to happen…’

    My Glob will probably appear in the next Blithe Spirit. Maybe we should bash our exchange into some kind of dialogue to follow it in a subsequent issue. My Glob is a first sally into the Therapeutic Haiku exploration that Claire’s started. I propose to argue that the haiku that stand a chance of being ‘therapeutic’ are those which come out of an awareness of a state of Nothingness. They use the whole of Being-awareness as opposed to emanating purely from lower Intellect or Emotion, consciously constructed doggerel or surreality.

    But I may be wrong!


  5. Patrick continues to have trouble posting here… He sent this privately.

    late morning shadows
    bob along my desk cover
    sun, and yellow leaf

    After reading Colin’s glob about haiku & consciousness I began thinking about my first experiences with haiku, and what happens when I go about writing a haiku poem. In 1978 I found myself in the company of men and women who wrote and discussed poetry. Haiku wasn’t an art form my professors spent much time with; we read haiku and engaged in heady talks about image and consciousness, but our attempts to use the 5-7-5 form were quickly dismissed as sophomoric. The higher the reverence is for something, the bigger the obstacles become, and my professors held haiku up to the brightest lights in the poetry pantheon. Haiku remained an obscure mystery, something confined to monks and a few others who walked among the gods.

    Things vanish, the world comes into focus and through reduction we arrive at the expansive view of a moment. Time moves back and forth into a field of perception where all objects including me are lifted up and on to a canvas, now it’s time to paint, 5-7-5 and the possibilities emerge. There are no limits within the world of haiku. My professors were right!

    When did poetry become rational?

    Colin wrote: ‘…In a very thoughtful review of Gilbert’s Poems of Consciousness, Randy Brooks (Modern Haiku Volume 40.1 Winter 2009) refers to Hasegawa Kai’s condemnation of what he calls ‘junk haiku’ – these are ‘… verses that have become predictable and stagnant owing to the influence of Western realism, haiku compositions based only upon those things you have directly seen…’ What’s the alternative? Hasegawa Kai calls for haiku with the kind of ‘…cutting which cuts a haiku from this reality within which we live…’

    Haiku resists much of our ordinary go-about-the-day mind. If anything it’s a blurry focus, a twist of irony, a delicate impression that as Colin says, ‘writes us.’ Anyone can write a haiku, paint a picture, create a piece of music, but very few will take the time to write a haiku that contains many levels of consciousness. Most haiku are one dimensional, maybe two, the one below works on multiple levels.

    deep winter
    within the pillar
    the rushing of waves

    The first line would be a throw away without the word pillar in the second line. Winter is winter, there is no such thing as a deep winter. Only because this is a marvelous haiku is that image acceptable; winter is always deep. The second and third lines create a powerful image that elevates the seemingly bland first line. The pillar becomes a conduit and “the rushing of waves” is our human lot. Haiku poems can get away with lines that other forms of modern poetry can’t. It’s about the only gift they offer; the rest should give the reader an odd sensation, like a flash, or a buzz in the brain, or the breath we just took seemed eerily long – time and space, time and space…

    waking up at 3
    soon all of this will be gone
    finally humble

    Since haiku was presented to me as an art form to be admired but not tried on for size, I didn’t think about it for 30yrs. or so. It remained in my mind as something beyond us mortals, I was afraid of the word haiku. When I would bring the subject up to my professors, they would shake their heads and persistently suggest sticking with lyric poetry. Discouraged to pursue what was pulling at me, I decided to give it a go, haiku ghosts be damned. So, (and this is just for me) I spent many hours walking along my favorite places. Walking for an hour and then sitting in silence for ten min. became my recipe for writing haiku ; the same recipe I use for many things. Haiku is a 3 centered process for me: Thinking/Feeling/Moving. I read hundreds of haiku poems by various authors, and a little book called The Zen Fool, by Ryokan.

    Sleeping under the balmy skies
    Drinking, drinking to the full
    Dreaming of sweet flowers
    Lying under a cherry in bloom

    Wine does go well with haiku, but that’s my own dream.

    As if from a dream we can awake for short periods of time and receive what Gurdjieff calls a pure impression, and if this happens we can experience the vast difference between the power that abstractions hold over us, and the interconnectedness of all things. We are all dreaming but believe we are awake! When a person sees this to be true, then they can liberate themselves from abstractions. Words frame things for us, so that we can try it out. They offer pathways, but they also can act as a disease, a virus of sorts that can control us. We can step outside our small-self, go Meta and create a dream better suited for a world in flux.

    we all spill outside
    the horse barn is empty now
    isn’t that enough?

    Colin writes: ‘…Bashō was one of the critics of this kind of ‘nonsense’ haiku. He believed that haiku should describe the world ‘as it is’ [not denying fiction which] can be very realistic and even more real than life itself…’ Thus haiku can be ‘something born of the imagination’ which Shirane says is ‘about the ability to move from one world to another…’ ‘…entering into the past, meeting the spirits of the dead, experiencing what poetic and spiritual predecessors had experienced’ while remaining ‘faithful to the original experience…’ in the moment… We might then ask – What exactly is the abstraction ‘imagination’? How does it work? It could be argued that imagination is nothing other than awareness in ‘the present moment’ constantly straying backwards & forwards into what we choose to call ‘past’ & ‘future’, connecting things up together, and making a response to the essential spirit in things.


    along the river path
    we separate and grow quiet
    so many new worlds

    ‘A haiku a day keeps the doctor away!’ Colin’s [Kirkup’s] aphorism rings, it’s connected to a bell near the ocean where Neruda spent his childhood, and where he returned at the end of his life. Bells exist inside a large shadowy hall filled with gold and silver, this hall extends ad infinitum like a luminous fuse filled with all the elements of life. Each bell has a sequence of notes and each sequence is both different and the same.

    mourning dove at dawn
    its plaintive coo in the dark
    everywhere to here


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