Expansion, contraction – action/reaction pt 5/6

(an utterly and shamelessly subjective view and based on the blogger’s uneducated glances into the world of haiku – with no intention of being anything else)

Then, what is “our own reality” then? Apart from all the elaborate philosophical aspects it’s quite easy to answer on a practical level: it’s your (our) reality where you live, how you live, what you direct your attention to, what occupies you, what carries you/holds you up, what gives you a fight or give you pleasure, what you are influenced by and how you deal with it, your past, your present and so on. Everything that has to with your (our) life. Ban’ya Natsuishi talks about reality as a whole consisting of man’s outer and inner reality including the learning acquired from history and the stream of information that adds to our “world-image”, I might add on my own accord. And as I live in a tiny village in Denmark and at the same time in an age where we’re becoming a global village because of the web and various other information technologies my reality is quite another than for instance that of a 17th century Japanese wandering poet or an American poet from the 1960’s. Historically I have my roots in European culture and history if I am to look at the most immanent influences – but since the 1950’s (and earlier) Europe carpet has been bombed by American influences via pop-culture. Via media, education and cultural “exchange” (wonder how much goes from Europe to America) my “world consciousness” is constantly growing. I can more or less effortlessly communicate with people all over the world in a much more comprehensive way than the previous centuries allowed for.

My reality as such has very little to do with Japanese culture. As the previous blogger mentioned a Japanese (or Canadian or Peruvian) saijiki won’t carry the meanings and implications it does for the Japanese (or Canadian or Peruvian). So what do I gain of solid experience if I try to take on a manner and set of aesthetics that isn’t part of my “blood”? Exercise. Pretence. Nothing more. I don’t become Japanese – or acquire a Japanese mind – by putting on a kimono, buying a Lucky Cat or write about cherry blossoms. Sticking to the ways of Basho, Issa and the others doesn’t make me any more Japanese either. Not by far.

If I was confronted with a group of writers from Bali who had decided that the psalms of Hans Adolph Brorson (Danish bishop and composer of psalms 1694 – 1764) was the ideal poetry and they told me they did all they could to recreate, replicate, repeat and beatify his work from the assumption that it was the summit of all poetry, I am not sure I would consider them right in the head. One of my thoughts would be: what on earth can these people, probably Hindus, from a tropical island know about living in the cold dark Lutheran country in those times? I would certainly think of their imitations of Brorson as, well, imitations and smoke and certainly not based in their reality. They might just get the metrics and structures of his psalms right, but then that would be it. They might even wear wigs like it was common in Brorson’s days, they might not wash, they might drink snaps and beer and live on a diet of mostly pig and potato and they might even have adapted the then Lutheran version of Christianity (or at least learned a catechism by heart) and so on. But it wouldn’t make their poetry more real. It would still be a piece of awkward archaeology – or an escape of some sort.

MY reality these days consists of all the information I have (all that I know, think, feel, sense, remember) and it gets wider and wider as time goes, and all the physical aspects of life: my immediate surroundings, my town, the city where friends and family live, what they say and do and so on. It’s an inexhaustible sphere that keeps growing with my every heartbeat. I don’t have to cross the river to get water (as we say in Denmark: gå ikke over åen efter vand) – or the Atlantic or the Pacific Ocean. I already have water. Adopting/taking up a Japanese form like haiku might in the West be using the linguistic and structural “technicalities” – or more vaguely: the spirit – of said form, the content (subjects, thematics, imagery etc.) must come from my (our) own part of the world if it is to be a vital and relevant (again: living and breathing) poetry – if we intend to use haiku as a way of expressing ourselves.

So, my reality is Danish first and then a member of the global village with a Danish backdrop. The latter part is important to me as haiku in Denmark is practically non-existent for various reasons. Haiku (or poetry/art in general) has to touch upon/concern itself with stuff that other people can relate to. Relevance. And luckily people have much more in common than flowers, trees, herons, cherry blossoms and so on. As privileged people (those of us who can afford computers, we who live in places where the information technologies are available and actually work) we can know about what people around the globe think, what is on their minds, how they live and so on and we discover that we share a lot with individuals everywhere, or at least where Western civilisation have had its ways. Much, much more than swooning over roses, dry leaves, crows, full moons and such. We share common human experiences and these are as valid subjects and themes as the “nature” ones. (But what is outside nature, if anything …). People in cities all over the world share experiences, people in hospitals, people with cars and so on and so on.

Personally (and this is a strictly and shamelessly subjective series of blog posts; what I convey in these are my own opinions only “valid” for me) I get more from reading a haiku like Brendan Slater’s

first light
my last Rizla
taken by the breeze

(In Bed with Kerouac, yettobenamedfreepress, Stoke-on-Trent, England, 2012)


winter lake
a heron pierces
a heron

(generic, written for this post by me)

I can relate to the scenery/imagery in Slater’s haiku much more than the heron in the lake. I’ve lived Slater’s haiku. It oozes off human presence, human conditions (poverty, barely making it, naked existence) vis-a-vis the more “eternal” and ethereal factors of sun and wind elevated to almost a deva state through their usage in Japanese thought and poetry. The heron haiku is empty to me; it leaves me indifferent. The emptiness (like an empty cardboard box) may lie in the fact that I can’t say when I last saw one or even were at a place where a heron would be nor do I long to. And I have not specific affections for herons. It may lie in the fact that there’s a surplus of this type of smooth and non-vibrating haiku out there and my initial thoughts are always: of what use is this to me? where is the writer? did he/she actually see this or is it a construction meant for demonstrating that the writer has grasped something of Japanese and Western mainstream haiku aesthetics? is it actually a poem or just an “inventory”, a “dead” retelling of what the eye saw? and why would someone want to show me something so indifferent, void of content, meaning, dynamics? Besides probably reflecting some “classical” aspect of haiku and dreamy nature romanticism what is there? I don’t know and that’s maybe where mainstream/modern haiku looses me – or I loose it. It has no relevance, no meaning to me. And things that are void of meaning I don’t bother to deal with. (Like the endless haiku discussions). On the other hand, having lived Slater’s ku myself, I can relate. The emptiness here is not ethereal, it’s a tangible void, cold walls, the heat is off, ½ a can of corn and 1 tea bag and no money. Not that I don’t get the “nothingness” of the Buddhist kind as it’s quite immanent to me, I just have no need for communicating that as it’s really beyond words …

Of course dreams, imagination and such have their place too in haiku but pretence may not have(?). If you want your output to be an expression of your actual life, there is no reason not to trust your (our) own experiences and write from there. Often the problem is not missing/not having the stuff to write from but our own ability to transform this into haiku. After a turbulent life Hosai Ozaki ended up lived alone in a run down temple on a small island with very little “happening” but there he wrote some of the best haiku I have ever read.

A lot of “haiku dos and don’ts” may obstruct the way to our “own haiku” and the choir of doomsday men/women may scare you into writing to please, to fit in, but don’t give up. What we need is the haiku that expresses a person’s experience and life-breath, not the endlessly replicated uniformity of mass production.

What is essentially a deeply personal (not private) way of expression won’t thrive by being adjusted to fit norms that doesn’t fit with the writer. It works best in freedom.

Haiku is written by people, individuals, not on license from an imaginary board of “masters”.

Johannes S. H. Bjerg

To be continued


2 thoughts on “Expansion, contraction – action/reaction pt 5/6

  1. Some very good points. When I come across a haiku like Brendan’s, and others’, I can connect. As much as I enjoy heron haiku, back in the 1990s there was a plague of immitation haiku about them, and of shadows etc… until the masterful Peter Williams (Watford, U.K.) now alas passed away, started publishing gentle spoofs:

    branch above the river
    the heron
    moves about a lot

    Peter Williams
    Blithe Spirit Vol. II No.3 (2001)

    Others from that British Haiku Society journal edition:

    too tired to get up–
    my shadow goes and makes
    a cup of tea

    midnight pond
    a frog jumps over
    the moon

    cherry blossom–
    time to polish
    my shoes

    Peter Williams
    Blithe Spirit Vol. II No.3 (2001)

    What has been greatly lost in many haiku, as you touch on, is the connectiveness with our fellow human beings, through real everyday connections.

    A good test is to take out our haiku to the general public, without them knowing we are the authors. I have done this many times, and overheard discussions from people who are normally put off poetry in all its forms because of its lack of inclusivity.

    There should not be masters of haiku (outside Japan) but enablers. If we’ve taken the time and trouble to study and understand haiku, then by all means, introduce the subject to people, but allow them to enjoy it on their own terms.

    The times I’ve met people who have hated poetry because of experiences in school, college, and from poets is too many to count. But if someone who knows about haiku and lay this type of poetry at their feet, and back away, it’s extraordinary how many people leap at the chance to visit poetry again.

    Alan Summers, With Words

  2. Pingback: Yea, yea, yea … « haikumatters

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