(still an utterly subjective and biased view on haiku and the haiku world as seen from a comatose village in rural North-West Sealand, Denmark, and having no educational or informative value whatsoever)
“… writers taking on “new 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. Newness in haiku might just happen to appear when all kinds of locked perceptions are dropped and the writer freely accesses his/her consciousness and what lies beneath”, I wrote earlier.
What we actually can do that is (or seems) new is excluding nothing in our writing and make use of how our mind(s)/attention works on its “automated” level, before it enters the place in us where we form words and draw conclusions, organize and reject or accept. Anyway, that is how most of us go about 80% of our daily life, I guess. We act and react on top of a lot of processes we aren’t aware of in their totality. We’d need enormous brains and energy reserves to do that … or to be enlightened which most of us aren’t and very many of us don’t give a toss about. We absorb a vast number of informations (sensual, intellectual, emotional) every day and we, more or less subconsciously, arrange them into relevant/irrelevant, usable and unusable and so on. But even the irrelevant and unusable stay with us even if in an inert state. We can make use of that material in our writing too.
In the last post I mentioned that because of our consciousness, because we’re human, we have the universe at our disposal, our source of inspiration, our well to draw from. Basically I’d say we’re unlimited but as haiku poets we administer this limitlessness in what goes as the shortest poetry form alive. This is the paradox that makes it interesting writing and reading haiku. No subject/theme is beyond haiku as has been said since Basho. This is why this blogger from time to time gets discouraged when writers from what can be called the “new traditional” (what has been considered “modern” haiku in the past 20 years or more) when trying out at gaining new territory chooses a more or less uniform set of “alternative” themes and subjects. Very often we are presented with themes of space, the universe and something with death, blood and guts. Granted, both themes occupy a lot of space in the media but they’re hardly “new” as themes except when seen in relation to traditional modern haiku. Or do those writers think that “shockers” such as blood, guts and grit is any different from the adolescent slapping a dead mouse on the table during Sunday lunch? It may be a bit odd to hear the distinguished gentleman/-woman say the f-word but it’s hardly new. Nonetheless, writers who try to break away from what they are used to, their modus, deserve a pad on their back. By stepping out of our comfort zone and normal activity field and modus will let new air into their work. Like I pointed out in the early posts a movement can start with a break-away, it will grow for a while and then settle in a form/norm with its own inertia. Movements (in both meanings) are made out of people, and in the writers themselves this start, go, rest, fade/sprout, grow, bloom, die takes place as well. So every attempt at finding new ways for one self is commendable.
“Haiku can be a lot more than pears and yellow windows” Marlene Mountain once said, and more than “space travels and intestines” I will add.
Between the frog pond and Mars (or Kepler 10b) there’s an abundance of subjects and themes. As many as you have the energy and time to explore or become aware of. As many as there are human lives being lived. Reality, if seen as suggested in the previous post as a totality of man’s outer and inner reality, is unending, unlimited and inexhaustibly varied. This is why we shouldn’t limit ourselves or our fellow writers to certain specific subjects, themes and styles. We should draw on all our experiences not tuning our “poet’s mind” to just look for stuff in certain directions or aspects of life. There isn’t such a thing as a set of subjects and themes for “modern haiku” and one for “contemporary haiku”. Drawing from our own lives may just add weight and substance to haiku. Not excluding subjects and themes because they might seem “un-haiku-ish” just might make haiku richer because it deals with the time and circumstances in which it is written by a person who actually lives, fights and is conscious of it.
The link between consciousness and language is intimate – just like the two sides of a coin together make up one coin.
Another way of “newness” (“” because it isn’t really new) is the various types Robert Gilbert found and treated in his article/essay “The Disjunctive Dragonfly” in his “Poems of Consciousness” (a version can be found here: (http://research.gendaihaiku.com/dragonfly/DisjunctiveDragonfly.htm) here presented in short:
Disjunctive Types (in presented order):
1) Perceptual disjunction
10) The impossibly true
(read the article to get these points explained)
“The goal of this paper is to offer expanded definitions and concepts for what “proper haiku” in English may be. To date, the English haiku tradition has been constrained, due to selective and intransigent interpretations of the Japanese haiku tradition; as well, a lack of critical focus on creative methodologies unique to English-genre evolution has stymied development. By examining the English haiku through its use of disjunction, new analytical and compositional perspectives will be suggested; as well, disjunctions in haiku will be examined semantically and linguistically to show that the aspect of disjunction may provide the intrinsic basis of both fragment/phrase-juxtaposition and the formal kireji (“cutting word”). Given that a haiku may cohere through its disjunctive attributes alone, disjunctive techniques may demonstrably supervene “traditional” notions of juxtaposition and kireji. By presenting a nomenclature of 17 disjunctive types, such as “reversal of semantic expectation, “the impossibly true,” “metaphoric fusion,” “elemental animism,” etc., new perspectives and guidelines regarding haiku composition and analysis will be presented. As an imported literary form, the English haiku has remained on the margins of Anglo-American literature; by viewing haiku through the lens of disjunction, it is hoped that this nascent form may find greater contiguity with other poetic genres, further validating its role as a multicultural literary art.”
(The Disjunctive Dragonfly: A Study of Disjunctive Methodology in Contemporary English Haiku,
Richard Gilbert, Kumamoto University
Published by: Kumamoto Studies in English Language and Literature, 47
(Literary Society of Kumamoto University, Kumamoto, Japan, March 2004)
(some of the writing and research by Richard Gilbert can be found at research.gendaihaiku.com)
Accepting the special use of language in haiku as poetry to the fullest, fragments, “baby-talk” as in what is normally seen as an “incomplete”, rudimentary language, lack of the coherency normally found in everyday language, literally using the words as images creating images (symbols creating images) may be a way to create the tension in a haiku that will make you think and think some more. An immediate consumption of some contemporary haiku might not be as easy as reading a mainstream/modern haiku (because you (I) more or less know it before it’s read through) but some of us actually like to be challenged and spend a while chewing on a concentrated haiku rather than read what we have read before in various disguises. But: each to his/her own.
Again, to keep haiku as a living, breathing poetry form I’ll encourage every writer to work at creating their own personal take on it, paint it with their own colours using brushes, sledgehammers, syringes, shoes, the laws of physics, Freud’s slippers, chequered kitchen floors, cigarette buds, genitalia, coffee pots, smelly feet, allergy, cherry blossoms, geisha’s eyelashes, green tea, Valerian roots or whatever “tool” they prefer. By churning the haiku spirit in our own bodies and minds, haiku might rediscover that it’s a never ceasing flow. If we can do that while respectfully accepting that others will do it differently, that each of us has our own way, taste, set of preferences and ideals and that they’re just as “right” as we are then we might just increase the vitality of haiku literature.
Johannes S. H. Bjerg
PS: the book “21” from Modern Haiku Press presents a varied selection that to some extend shows what haiku looks like today. In here you can find traditionalist, modern and contemporary haiku. This book provides a great view into a possible future and a vibrant present.
So what does all this add up to, if anything?
Well, we shouldn’t limit ourselves or other people in how they write or what they write about. We should acknowledge that if we ourselves want the freedom to write what and how we like we can’t refuse others the same. And would we endure a haiku world of extreme uniformity? one where (as it seems the case in some corners of this haiku world) a standard set of phrases, topics, themes etc. make up the majority of the written haiku … Shouldn’t we rather inspire and support each other to find our own voices rather than trying to fall in with the choir already singing or lashing out at those who doesn’t follow our personal taste and preference? Though it is alright not to like this or that “genre” others should be free to choose for themselves what they like. Diversity is a gift. Diversity is nature’s own expression amongst ourselves – in the world of animate and inanimate things. We all have individual voices, why shouldn’t we use them? and why would anyone have it otherwise?
Writing haiku is always (to me, at least) feeling like a beginner. Over and over again. And as a beginner I (and I hope you do too) try out a number of things, different takes, uncomfortable “genres” (yes, even shasei 😉 ) all to get rid of that layer of calluses and to get to the vulnerable but breathing skin, so to speak. The “state” where we don’t rely on already achieved experience, breaking away from our own comfort zone. And maybe we need to at times reject genres, boxes, fences, hedges and so on (though they’ll pop up soon enough again in the common space) and just go along with our flow that the poem finds exactly the form it needs to express our intentions; in the same way we should (and I’m sure most of us inevitably do that during a day, a week) read all genres of haiku not to limit ourselves. The limitations we impose on ourselves (mostly subconsciously) are fairly easy to break, but harder to see. The limitations others try to impose on us directly or indirectly by shouting about “right” or “wrong” and working out elaborate check lists of what elements should be present in an acceptable haiku are tougher. But if we realize that no (one) person, no “board”/institution, no country, no culture can decide what is “right/wrong” haiku and that those who claim themselves to be in that position anyway merely are human beings like ourselves with no divine mandate, we can easily let them shout themselves hoarse. We needn’t bother with them. Like I’ve asked before: why stay in a place that makes you uncomfortable? why seek out company where you most likely will be yelled at and abused? If the “emperors” want to rant and shout and fight windmills (things they can’t change but will oppose anyway) then let them. You and I can do as little about them as they can do about the kind of haiku they can’t stand. It will be written anyway.
Nature thrives in diversity, nay, diversity is Nature’s true face, we are nature so why not accept the diversity and embrace it …
just asking …
On request I have uploaded the collected blog posts for February to be read or downloaded as you please: http://www.scribd.com/doc/127123319/Untied-Kites-Collected-Blog-Posts-From-Haiku-Matters