Yea, yea, yea …

Yea, yea, yea …

Again: a heron piercing itself among cherry blossoms while the crow caws and the moon mirrors itself in a frozen pond with cloned frogs while we think about why we didn’t say this or that …

(still an utterly, utterly, utterly (this time even more so) subjective view by an uneducated fella. No educational value whatsoever … but some questions)

Earlier I speculated whether the uniformity of mainstream haiku has to do with crowd/group behaviour or a general satisfaction with doing what the others do, saying what the others say, agreeing with the faceless mass on what is good haiku or at least acceptable haiku. I also mentioned the fact that some people might not want more than what the mainstream represents and that it is o.k. But to me as a reader (the reader I, me, Johannes S. H. Bjerg, am) it only leads to watering out haiku as a living, breathing form if the mainstream is what constitutes haiku. If poetry (and art) doesn’t develop it dies. It becomes ritual – and as such a confirmation of things as they already are – and not an artistic expression. If “modern haiku” is seen as the norm, the “real thing”, then haiku has no literary future in the same way that forever doing things the same way (sticking to tradition and what have been accomplished in the past – just like the Danes boasting about having been Vikings and conquerors …) brings us comfort and a sense of safety but doesn’t add to our experience. It ends up in a perpetual repetition of already tried and accepted gestures that become void of meaning and content.

It’s important to remember that not all of us want the same from haiku. Some of us are quite happy with swimming in the mainstream and some seek to bend, stretch and challenge the haiku form into something that will carry and contain our own take on life. Some couldn’t care less about either. Therefore this – and the previous posts – should be read with the natural diversity of haiku in mind.

fresh snow
the weight of what
we didn’t say


frozen lake
a track of deer prints
enter the shore


cherry blossoms
the love I lost


the way our
silence grows


blooming thistle
the way he didn’t
touch me


winter solstice
the birch where my
lark-dreams died


and so on and on. I bet you can continue the list yourself.

(though some subjects/themes are overly used because of their place in culture to which we don’t belong, they can nonetheless be used in “new” ways and ways that are rooted in a more local culture- as a shown by Alan Summers in his comment on )

These generic haiku written by me for this post might well represent a taste of what is now considered mainstream haiku in various places in journals and on the web and has become somewhat meaningless. Meaningless in the sense that it is being repeated to a degree where you (I) get blind/deaf because the (my) senses aren’t provoked to see something new, to stop and ponder/wonder, to read it twice or thrice. It’s like the muzak flooding the supermarket. We hear it but we don’t listen. Once “London Calling” by The Clash was a rebel song, now I hear it in my village’s supermarket … The choice of words, images and “juxes” have been used to a degree where they have become empty. IF haiku should be a way of awakening the senses, shake the reader’s mind a bit, make us see something ordinary in an unusual way, connect things and experiences we haven’t yet thought of, this type of haiku fails, and mainly because it has become formula, habitual, ritualistic. It’s the “run of the mill”. If you can then spice it up with a little spirituality (preferably Buddhist-ish) or some Western “deep” poetry then why not? This might be where wordings like “tree-dreams”, “scent of time”, “tasting sound”, “a lark’s dream” comes from; phrases that to me seem overly constructed/contrived. Not that I doubt the existence of synaesthesia or deeply refined senses but … Haiku doesn’t become more “felt” by using phrases like these. By stating, showing, explicit emotions in a way normally used in Western poetry by the Romantics or by heartbroken teenagers. I do not question animism in haiku or surrealism (wish those were more frequently used tools) but mostly it seems that the writer worked really hard to “deepen” her/his haiku … and it doesn’t work. Pouring our hearts out, crying in public (which sells a lot of tv-shows) doesn’t really belong to haiku and hardly ever make good poetry. Our personal feelings aren’t that interesting if the reader cannot partake in it with her/his own experiences. Haiku as such works more powerful by the implied.

In the same way it seems to me that writers taking on “new-new/contemporary (gendai) haiku” tend to write about space or death in various ways as if the subjects themselves were “the new”, but that too has become commonplace and truisms. Newness in haiku might just happen to appear when all kinds of locked and habitual perceptions are dropped and the writer freely accesses his/her consciousness and what lies beneath the everyday level and incorporates the seemingly hap-hazard associations our streams of thought come up with. (More about this in a later post).

Constructions like

fresh snow
the weight of what
we didn’t say

has become so overly used that it is void of impact. Or nothing new or unexpected. Juxing the “fresh snow” (lightness, pure, untouched, undisturbed by the cruelty of man’s walk on earth etc.) and the standard “hurt-phrase” “ … what we didn’t say” is as common as flies on cow dung. Who doesn’t expect flies on dung? This standard/generic haiku reflect a “tone” very common (and very uninteresting) in mainstream haiku. A tone of hurting in solitude even though you’re with a person you supposedly love and chose to be with. But does it concern other people? Doesn’t we all have internal books full of what we didn’t say when we should have? Does this phrasing presume that it is the same “we didn’t say” for all of us? Is this in concordance with haiku being a short poem that shows something (in theory) commonly experienced/known (or possibly known) in a new surprising way, one that opens a new view on something very ordinary? Is it of such a nature that it should have escaped the diary and made it out into the world via the web or by print?

… or maybe it just represent a writer joining two pre-fabricated block of words.

My suggestion of an answer ending in more questions could be that the view of the individual, the utterly private as in “confessional” literature, so fundamental for Western poetry and culture have gradually flowed over into what is called modern or mainstream haiku and haiku in general. Haiku being basically an ego-less (non-private) poetry form has to some degree been paired with “die immer traurigen”, the ever-sulking, Westerners, AND the tendency to place the writer (and his/her hurting) in the centre of things. The private hurt again. It seems as though the emotional expressions, the weight, the colouration, the up-front emotional expressions of a private and personal character that maybe originally belongs to tanka has begun taking over the slightly more distanced, hinted and implied “open to interpretation”/supplied-by-the-reader ditto of haiku. Or is it part of some haiku becoming Western in “mode”/tone?

Some basic reading about haiku vs. tanka might help keeping things apart. The difference lies not only in 3 lines or 5 lines.

To put it demonstratively blunt:

I am not advocating haiku/tanka purity as such but cramming the emotionality of tanka into a haiku may be a bit too much. Though already much writing going under the label “haiku” maybe isn’t anything more than 3line feely diary notes, aphorisms, vignettes, (Western) poems, banalities, repetitions, replications etc. it seems a re-invigorated awareness of the basic differences of haiku and tanka may be needed or drawn to attention. Does the “dreaming room” of tanka fit into haiku? How much explicit heartache can a haiku bear? Are we so preoccupied with our own sadnesses that we cannot write from anything else? Have we lost the sense of what we as humans have in common? Does the personal reflections of tanka have room enough in a haiku where the reader himself/herself should complete it? Have we evicted the reader from our (mainstream) haiku to make room for showing forth our own private emotions? Do we serve already complete packages instead of hinting at doors that might open up new rooms? These questions aren’t meant to imply “you’re on the wrong” path but as means to raise the awareness, ask ourselves, of what we’re doing.

So, one of the essential, important and intriguing features/basics of haiku is making room for reader/listener; to build and arrange half a room and let the reader move in with her/his own stuff to complete it even if it takes some effort to do so. Even if the room maybe hexagonal and pink. To supply some “Rorschach” words/images, implied like unfinished jig-saw puzzles and let the reader interpret and complete it. NOT giving it all away but kindling the reader’s own stock of images, memories, experiences and such, that is a beautiful aspect of haiku. You don’t present a haiku, you invite others to partake in it. It’s a play. A play that has to some degree takes place in a common and not private sphere. I (I) am not interested in having a haiku set before me as a dinner plate, I want to be offered one. There’s a difference. The haiku must have enough space/room in it for me to enter. Only then it becomes vibrant and alive, a project that does not solely revolve around the writer but also has something for me, something I can relate to that is not within the author’s person and his/her foggy past.

This invitation often lies in the fragmentary use of images and words (openings) and it’s not done by saying: “ … what we didn’t say”. The invitation into a haiku shouldn’t be me guessing what the writer’s cranky relationship is all about and where he/she went wrong and so on. That is not completing a haiku. But, alas, what hasn’t been said (regrets) is evidently still not being said and man, does it take up a lot of space.

True, reality is coloured by the mind that perceives it but as humans we are able to determine what is “mine” and what is “ours”, what we obviously have in common.

Still, this kind of haiku is also a part of the diversity.

Johannes S. H. Bjerg


cherry boy

from one petal to the other
the cherry boy dances
in red shoes

sore necks
one flower should be auspicious

a secret spring
the cherry boy keeps silent
’bout the whales

to fly pink
and into a pocket

a nation leaving winter
populated by cherry kids
one chaffinch two

sunlit coffee – snails on
the table closest to Armageddon

piercing a waterfall
the cherry boy reveals
my future name

did I mention did you hear
my skull is lined with pollen

from an anatomic atlas
a cherry boy weaves
the pinkest fog of all

go out stay in
we’ll tackle it together

18C in March
the cherry boy draws pink eyes
on blind stones

their dream our nightmare
my card is always Death

out of nowhere
and back – the cherry boy
hides inside a girl

I won’t move a finger

a bubble of innocence
surrounding this kid – the cherry boy
sneaks out a song

enough is said
we touch The Silent One

(“cherry boy” can be used a term for a virgin boy/adolescent in Japanese)


13 thoughts on “Yea, yea, yea …

  1. I’m looking forward to constructive comments on your provocative piece. We can’t surely just shadow the last 50 years of haiku writing in the West can we?

    Poets will look back to the masters, for example Milton, but no one would attempt to write like Milton or copy his work now, should we ignore this fact, or find our own way to haiku, regardless of peer pressure?

    • Of course we can’t look away. We have a – and we stand on – history. But we learn from these masters “what it’s all about”, the tricks of the trade, get inspiration from them. But having learned “enough” (when have we ever) we should use these tool for creating our own. To “write our own time” like the old ones wrote theirs.

  2. Yet again Johannes’ critque, his questions whose answers are not necessarily answers just more questions…. is nevertheless making me think and will impact on my writing. Can we write from our own reality and yet eschew the linguistic cliches, the cultural ennui and angst that colors the perpetually sulking westerner (or European at least !) ? We transmit our worlds in ways others recognize, otherwise it is meaningless. I make harsh judgments of large sections of the media but those enjoying/ being fed by that media are in the majority. The poets ‘choice’ to be an outsider is also perhaps a western Romanticism, How much ‘my world’ is colored by me can be a problem for me. I don’t want to write ‘oh woe is me’ poetry, but I am sensitive to the emotional content of mine and other’s lives and do think that can be expressed without hyperbole through haiku. For me tanka can too easily become a fairly explicit rendering of an event: for me that is, I have read many great ones.

    I also like ”fresh snow/ the weight of what/we did n’t say”. I accept that it is not necessarily new but, if it expresses my experience, if I recognise it, it is more than a mantra in a western sense and moves towards being a mantra in the sense of orally transmitted poetic hymns. They have resonance because they are archetypal, perhaps. I have heard a million people say I love you (not me specifcally 🙂 but I can count on few fingers when it was said to me and turned me inside out. When my child did blah / said blah etc it was, is, beautiful to me and yes I captured it most often in cliched terms, but that is the meta ’emotional’ language surrounding me.

    I struggled so much with classical poetry and the lack of classical knowledge to help me understand it, and the apparent simplicity of haiku (albeit multi layered, and the potential for the reader’s interpretation completing the poem for themselves) had/ has great appeal I try not to, but do worry that if we express ourselves ‘too uniquely’ we will lose people like me who can’t understand the work. The surreal can be wonderful and bring artistic freedom and extend borders… but it can also create its own stylistic club. So I look forward to Johannes’ post when he,considers ”newness in haiku might just happen to appear when all kinds of locked and habitual perceptions are dropped and the writer freely accesses his/her consciousness and what lies beneath the everyday level and incorporates the seemingly hap-hazard associations our streams of thought come up with. (More about this in a later post).”. Will it be a justification of stream of consciousness ku that I find striking but cannot often relate to personally? Can’t wait Johannes 🙂

  3. Always good to have fresh viewpoints and forward momentum in art, but I always try to remember that writing/art is also personal expression. One cannot discount the right of an artist(aka a person) to share their experiences -of love, or frogs, or the rippling of the milky way on the lake- just because Shakespeare or Basho got their first. And no matter how many times ( in my 34 years) that I have looked up at the stars, I cannot remember ever thinking, “Ah, same universe as last time… BORING !!!”
    I often get fed up reading or writing haiku that seem like everything else, but then again, in a world of such divisive differences, it’s nice to see that no matter what corners of the earth we hail from, we are all essentially the same (even if you can’t stand the guy/gal) and we are all in the same boat. No evolution of haiku can escape that genetic certainty.
    Of course it’s nice to see people try to come up with new ways of saying the same thing, I’m all for that, but lets not start a civil war because you feel the need to justify cracking your egg on the other side….there’s no need, all points of view are relevant and irrelevant.

    PS. A good haiku will always have an impact.

    Replying to Alan’s:
    “Alas, there are old guard camps that insist one way or the other way that all haiku must be through their filter. I just like reading an individual’s haiku not a boss approved model. I want the writer not someone who wants to be their boss in the poetry.”

    Alan, I like to employ a phrase that is underused in this discussion, that is:

    Fuck the begrudgers !!!
    (Irish expression of virulent scorn of critics by those determined to continue regardless of anything)

    I mean that in the most respectful but direct manner.

    • Terri, I’m not out to “start a civil war because you feel the need to justify cracking your [my] egg on the other side”. I think I’ve stated plenty of times that it’s freedom I’m advocating but also a freedom from habitual thinking/behaviour/writing. We are free to write exactly what we want but there seems to be a “standard set of images and themes” and “standard phrases” weighing heavily on mainstream haiku – just like there’s a standard set of themes and bars in blues music …

      Man has a great advantage: we are able to think outside the box … I just encourage we use that 😉

  4. Not sure what f*ck is directed at or whom, but I’m for good writing by writers free to write their poems free from directives up on high.

    A lot of people who have a go at attempting to write haiku often say f*ck the rules, or perversely dictate it must be 575, until suggestions are made that haiku are more than just a syllable number crunching game, and then some say f*ck the rules then if they have to consider other aspects of haiku.

    I’m just for good writing as a reader, and wanting to read the writer’s poem, not their attitude which is on most street corners on a Friday night.

    It’s an odd situation but those shouting the loudest about freedom turn out to be the most proscriptive. Regarding the haiku writing territories, my interest is in the writer writing their haiku, not dictates from them or or their designated boss(ses). Sometimes I wonder if haiku is the most afflicted by these diatribes.

    I guess it’s why I enjoy children’s novels and crime fiction, I’m not in the Madding Crowd anymore.

    Thomas Gray’s poem Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard (1751):

    Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife
    Their sober wishes never learn’d to stray;
    Along the cool sequester’d vale of life
    They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.

    “Madding” means “frenzied”

    As you know, I enjoy a lot of your haiku.


  5. “Street corners on Friday nights”, I would like to read that book of haiku, Alan.
    Haiku is the poetry of nature and everywhere -in us and on this planet and in this universe- there is nature. After all, we are only monkeys( I imagine that makes god a monkey too) and that means that no matter what words you or I choose to expresses ourselves, we are all only monkeys howling. The whole debate is like listening to mockingbirds argue about how to sing like a bird.

    For what it’s worth, I admire some of the haiku/hokku/ku (tomato/tomato/to) coming from the traditionalist, the mainstream and the deviants. My “fuck the begrudgers” is for anyone of those who shouts down the other in an attempt to elevate themselves (I’ve noticed the base tactic of attack is to pick the worst examples of a style, denigrate it, and then tar all with the same brush). In the end the poetry speaks for itself. Just keep evolving, keep producing and improving, keep publishing your progress and fuck the begrudgers… but don’t get dragged down to that level, that base tactic of putting down others to justify or elevate your own way of saying the same thing that everyone else is saying.

    As always, I’m looking forward to reading your ku.

  6. I totally agree with Terry’s points, I’m so tired of the back and forth ‘debate’ between ‘traditionalists’ and ‘experimenters’ and each trying to self-elevate by knocking the other ‘side’ down. I am both and everything in between, and more . . . a monkey happy to be howling, whichever way the whim takes me, happy that every other monkey is doing the same. . . wish there were less spitting of banana pulp and throwing of poop though.

  7. Johannes, I couldn’t agree with your assessment more, For some time I’ve had similar concerns. And if the truth be known I’ve fallen into the trap of writing such tripe myself. Much of what I read in the traditional haiku journals, at least here in the US, is downright boring. I keep saying to myself, “I’ve seen this poem before, and before that.” But when I submit something innovative to these same journals the material gets a thumbs down. Now I’m not bellyaching about rejection slips. They are part of the game. But when I see the lookalike haiku being published again and again…well I have to ask what’s going on here?

    • yes, Johnny, I hear you. I was experiencing this too and that made me take up these questions and ponderings I’ve expressed on this blog. There seems to a heavy inertia in the haiku world as it is expressed through some of the major journals in print or on-line and in various forums. As I mumbled about in the first posts as well I guess it’s in the nature of things. At some point a “movement” (meaning a growth or a development as such) seems to come to a point from where it doesn’t go further … and maybe just dies. it has gotten as far as it could within the “definitions” inherent in itself, and now it’s going nowhere but is lost in repetitions. And maybe, just maybe, we are on the brink of something new. At least two new publishing houses publish non-mainstream stuff now and we at Bones also try to make room for work that might not fit in with “the old format”. I know that A Hundred Gourds as well to some extend share the INclusive view and try to do what they can. Sooner or later things will change …

    • I am feeling you Johnny. There has developed a very fixed attitude in a lot of the journals about what exactly constitutes a haiku with little interest from them in trying something different and as a result there is stagnation. I think maybe the criteria for judging haiku should is not whether it measures up to some yardstick of good haiku but whether it is good art.

  8. Re Johnny’s comments re journals:

    dust me a tottering tower of once were trees /sw

    It’s not that I don’t empathise. . . more that I just prefer to write what I like and send (which
    I rarely do these days) to where it’s likely to be appreciated (having checked what sort of work they publish). It comes down to taste. What bores me isn’t then by definition ‘bad’ or something to disparage. If my neighbour likes plaster ducks on the wall what’s it got to do with me? Going around implying/saying that plaster ducks are pastiche and in poor taste is no more than self-elevation. . . liking to think that my taste is ‘better’. Or does it just show that I’ve bought into the received idea that experimental is kewl, trad is bad. Neither is about truth, both are about control.

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