|Posted by Susan Shand on January 8, 2013 at 7:05 PM||comments (4)|
So what IS a haiku anyway? I imagine that you will get as many varied responses to that question as people you ask. Everyone has an opinion, everyone is in their own place of relationship to this small poetry form and their understanding of it. I’m not sure that I have a clear answer to that question, mostly because I approach haiku on an instinctive level rather than a rule level, I am content-biased rather than form-biased.
So if we trek around the bazaars asking that question what answers will we get? If the responder to your question is form-biased then they will talk about the building blocks of haiku; kigo, kireji, juxtaposition, layout, length, and probably a lot of Japanese words for aesthetic qualities. The content-biased response might focus on the same aesthetic qualities but be more concerned with what is actually going on IN the haiku than how it is presented, or any supposed rules about what it should or should not contain.
William J Higginson, writing in 1985, tells us that,
“Basho emphasised the depth of content and the sincerity of the poet as perceived in the poem, and was not overly concerned with kigo andkireji, though he used both and did promote kisetsu (seasonal aspect) in poetry. […] Some modern haiku poets have abandoned traditional form […] holding that haiku has a deeper essence based on our response to the objects and events of our lives.” [WJH p.289]
So at what point does the scale between *5/7/5, kigo, kireji, nature focus* and (at the other end of the scale) “micro-poetry”, shift from haiku to not-haiku? Or in other words how many legs can we lose from the buffet before it falls over? From a form-biased perspective, how many of the building blocks of haiku must we use in order for it to be considered haiku? Actually, whenever I hear this argument my earworm (Ohrwurm) kicks in to the internal CD player with “Three wheels on my wagon, and I’m still rolling along….” (Oh blast! there it goes again…)
I think many teachers begin by teaching form simply because it is so difficult to talk about the essence of what we mean by “essence”. It may be in some cases, that teaching form is merely a ruse to keep students occupied whilst they absorb by gradual osmosis, the essence of ‘essence’. This seems to me to be a cop-out on the teacher’s part, and singularly unskillful. In that rules, once inculcated into a student’s psyche, are very difficult to unlearn; so as a bridge they actually make a good barrier.
Higginson again, tells us that,
“Haiku happen all the time, wherever there are people who are “in touch” with the world of their senses, and with their own feeling response to it.” [WJH p.4]
So there is clearly something about this “essence” that includes us and our inner world. Which would suggest that somehow we must be intimately involved in what we are writing about. That the flat observational description, like a snapshot unexplained, is insufficient to convey “essence”.
“…that just as a mere “look at” an object is not enough to produce the deep seeing that begins inspiration, so the writing of a mere description cannot capture the essence of an object…” [WJH p.10]
(I would add here “or experience”. Bill makes this overt elsewhere and I wouldn’t want to imply that haiku should be object-focused.)
Somehow, our looking at the world needs to be an in depth experience which links us intimately with what we observe. Without casual thought or a chattering mind, but with an open unjudging approach to the external thing which has caught our attention. It is my feeling that our attention is captured because something outside of ourselves, in some way reflects what is inside of us. That we paint our own internal onto the external; and by doing so reach deeply into our own subconscious concerns and feeling responses. Then we apply our craft to attempting to transmit that valuable experience of seeing, to others.
Bill explains that the ideal of the Basho-school haiku is
“In the final poem, both the language of the poem and the mind of the poet should be transparent to the reader.” [WJH p10]
The point is NOT to obscure that experience by Yodaesque or pseudo-Japanese language. Nor by the Dadaesque association of words to confuse the mind with the intellectuality of concepts. Nor indeed to scatter words like crossword clues to engage the puzzling mind in a cleverness we hesitate to admit that we don’t understand. It is rather to expose our inner selves deeply and openly to the observation of others, so that they too can share in our experience.
Maybe, possibly, (and you must decide for yourself here) maybe even with no wheels at all, the wagon is still a wagon.
William J Higginson with Penny Harter (1985) “The Haiku Handbook”, Kodansha International