The Wild Beyond Echoing (James Hackett’s Haiku Way) – Paul Russell Miller. Grandad Publishing 2021 145 pages ISBN 978-1-9995931-4-8 Published Friday August 6th 2021 marking what would have been James Hackett’s 92nd birthday.
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We write haiku perhaps often by imitating what we see in print. It might be worth spending some time reading up on what is happening in the haiku world outside our ‘bubble’ in order to deepen our understanding of the true nature of haiku. Paul Miller’s book is an engagingly written way of noting some important trends and writing processes from Bashō to Gurga and back and of thinking about one’s own practice.
In these days when Grand Narratives like the one in relation to haiku propounded notably by RHBlyth (‘Haiku is Zen’) have been called into question by haiku commentators with a post-modern mindset, it is something of a relief to find a (not uncritical) celebration of the work of one of haiku’s unjustly neglected Western pioneers who consistently stuck to his Zen guns and put the new wave in its place as Paul Miller tends to do in his book which is organised under seventeen of Hackett’s ‘Suggestions for Beginners’; he proceeds to apply the Suggestions with fine discrimination and a good deal of linguistic adroitness to some of Hackett’s own haiku.
For example, Suggestion 1 says ‘The present is the touchstone of the haiku experience, so always be aware of this present moment’. Since Haruo Shirane’s 1999 essay called ‘Beyond the Haiku Moment’*, various influential haiku commentators have assumed, seemingly relying solely on the essay’s title, that this means we have grown out of fixing on ‘a moment’ to write haiku or even that there’s no such thing as a ‘haiku moment’ which has given rise to the intellectualising of ‘haiku’. Paul Miller looks at the aridity of some well-known examples as compared with the emotional richness of Hackett’s best haiku. Hackett followed Bashō’s statement to the letter: ‘…haiku is simply what is happening in this place at this moment…’
Words themselves always carry the weight of the past; the best haiku will inevitably imply something ‘beyond the moment’ anyway.
Through gossamer wings
of this dragonfly
the blooming cosmos.
Hackett’s 5-7-5 haiku seems to take us way far beyond the moment until we know that a ‘cosmos’ is also a dahlia-type flower. Here is an example of a careful choice of words (Suggestion 7) expressing clearly what he feels in close contemplation of natural objects, revealing normally unseen wonders after due reflection (Suggestions 3 & 5).
Paul draws attention to Hackett’s practice of always carrying a notebook (Suggestion 2) to capture ‘moments’ which he spent some time revising ‘in tranquillity’. Paul’s research provides fascinating glimpses of how a first draft was developed into a haiku. Many latter day haiku writers would have been satisfied with the following Hackett draft on the assumption that a haiku is simply a description of an event; Hackett’s revision nicely takes us ‘beyond the event’ itself. This is the notebook event:-
already filled with water
footprints in the sand
In his revision, Hackett implies the physical act of walking by just mentioning ‘footprints’, goes beyond the merely visual by introducing the third sense of sound which offers the idea of personal presence, so that the draft becomes the far richer:-
On hearing the surf
every footprint becomes
that of the sea.
Some haiku commentators think of Zen as being solely about ‘being in the present’ but Paul quite rightly points out that Hackett’s Suggestion 4 ‘represents the central tenet of his haiku practice’. Hackett’s shorthand term is ‘Interpenetration’, which is, in brief, about allowing ‘subjects to express their life through you’, as with the last-quoted haiku which absorbs the self in the large movement between a small footprint and the all-embracing sea. Paul points out that as a concept ‘Interpenetration’ is ‘poorly understood’ in the general haiku world.
For this reviewer, this is a philosophical problem. Western thought has been lumbered down the ages with ‘dualism’ which is perhaps most easily represented by Descartes’ famous dictum ‘I think therefore I am’ which conditions us to construct the idea of ‘thinking’ as being separate from ‘thing thought’ – a dualism – so that a conventional poet sets about their task thus:-
I think I perceive a host of golden daffodils: therefore, wandering about like a lonely cloud, I will write a longish poem about them using all the usual poetic tropes…
Whereas the haiku writer on top form will suddenly become aware of being in a pure & empty mental state to be immediately filled by haiku, standing for the singleness of self and outside world. This is, in Zen terms, non-dualism or, for Hackett, Interpenetration, absorption of self into whatever happens to be present around it.
Paul quotes Bashō: ‘…description of the object is not enough; unless a poem contains feelings which have come from the object, the object and the poet’s self will be separate things…’ That’s dualism. Interpenetration is apprehending reality in a different ‘one world’ way. It’s this reviewer’s emphasis because the danger is that when a haiku writer expresses their own feelings we are back in duality.
Paul nicely compares this masterful 5-7-5 haiku
Moon fades into dawn
an ivory moth settles
within the lily.
the full autumn moon
I walk in circles all night
along the pond edge
and says, ‘Both, I feel, form a deep nocturnal meditation on the nature of form & emptiness, with one poet extending upward toward infinity and the other down through a lotus flower’ – an ‘expansion and simultaneous extinguishing of self…’
When the self is extinguished, the essential nature of things can become clarified – isness, istigkeit, suchness – without the imposition of obscurity, intellectual affectation, abstraction, or projection of internal pre-suppositions, typical of many so-called ‘modern’ haiku, many of which come from dualistic ways of thinking. Paul offers us a great opportunity to ponder this.
Other Hackett Suggestions cover all the usual formal elements of haiku construction with highly enlightening comparisons and linguistic thoughtfulness. A great book for haiku thinkers.