As a poet and photographer, I often am forced to choose between the two genres. If I’m going on a walk, I’ll say to myself: well, do you want to take pictures today or write haiku? Which shall it be? And the reason for my necessity to choose is the way in which I perceive and utilize each art form.
Let me explain. To take a photo, I place an instrument next to my eye or look through a viewfinder or at a screen. Next, I will try to frame my shot and focus on what I am trying to capture in the scene, whether that’s a frog in a pond, suckling baby pigs or gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery.
Whatever it might be, I want my photo to be an aesthetically pleasing image. I remain, throughout the entire process, on the outside looking in. I am not attempting to become a part of the scene or to understand what it means to be a frog in a pond or a baby pig; rather, I am attempting to capture beauty or harmony or create dissonance through an instrument that will enable others to see what I saw or act in response to the image.
In writing a haiku, though, the first difference is that I do not need any type of instrument or technology. A pencil and a small notebook suffice; or, if I don’t have either, I’ll put some lines to memory. Before I begin composing, though, I try to be at one with my subject, I try to dissolve my own being in the thing that’s being observed and imagine myself in its own place.
In an article about Basho’s conception of poetry and the creative process, Basho and the Poetics of “Haiku,” Makoto Ueda writes that Basho believed that poetry is a product of “close communion with nature” and that this “leads to a ‘transpersonal’ theory of poetry, since such a communion presupposes the dissolution of the poet’s ego.” Further on, Ueda quotes Doho, a disciple of Basho who discusses the master’s approach to how a haiku poet should compose haiku:
…to submerge himself within a natural object, to perceive its delicate life and feel its feelings, out of which a poem forms itself. A poem may skillfully delineate an object; but, unless it embodies feelings which have naturally emerged out of the object, the poem will fall short of the true poetic sentiment, since it presents the object and the poet as two separate things.
Which, of course, is part of my dilemma when I go out for a walk: do I want to try to be a part of nature and write a haiku? Or, do I want to remain outside of the scene and try to “capture” a part of nature in a photograph, and share that with others? I suppose that I could take my walk twice, once as a haikuist and another time as a photographer, but by then the scene would have changed and the feeling disappeared.
How about you – what’s your own poetic process? Do you work like Basho suggests or do you have a different technique? Do you try to capture a scene in an objective way, distancing yourself from it like a camera? Has anyone else faced a similar dilemma or are you able to combine photography and haiku without any conflict?
Lastly, does anyone have a haiku for one of my photographs?