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UNCANNY ATTRACTIONS

Uncanny Attractions (by Stella Pierides)

Photo of shopfront in Augsburg, Germany

Photo of shopfront in Augsburg, Germany

I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of the Uncanny. Freud, the writer often associated with this concept, described the following uncanny experience when he came face to face with his own double. While travelling by train, Freud saw an elderly gentleman enter his sleeping compartment by mistake. Jumping up to let him know of his error, Freud realised it was his own image reflected in the mirror on the connecting door. He had found the appearance of what he thought was another man ‘thoroughly unpleasant.’ Without being frightened, he failed to recognise his ‘double.’ Or was the displeasure he felt, Freud wondered in the last note of his last chapter on “The Uncanny,” “perhaps a vestige of the archaic reaction to the ‘double’ as something uncanny?” He leaves us with a question, perhaps an encouragement to take this further ourselves.

Freud was not the first of course to link the concept of the ‘double’ with mirroring, the image in the mirror as well as the ‘other.’ Ever since Plato conceived of material reality as a poor representation of the true Forms, others have found man’s double in several contexts. In literature, for instance, Mary Shelley made the monster his creator’s ‘double’ and leaving him unnamed, led subsequent generations of readers to refer to him with the name of his creator: “Frankenstein.” Conrad, too, wrote the ‘double’ in his stories (e.g., in “The Secret Sharer”).

So what has this ‘uncanny’ and ‘double’ to do with haiku, and my theme of reader-oriented matters? If you read my previous posts, you may have noticed I like playing with ideas; though more thought games than thought experiments.

Let me throw this thought in the pot: Isn’t there in haiku a situation in which, when you come to the poem, you become slightly disoriented by the presentation of the two separate, juxtaposed ideas? (Remember the field of energy, in the previous post?) I think there is. The ‘cut’ and the pause in the juxtaposition of two ideas/images are device(s) which open up the extra perspective(s), depth, for the reader; they also create a sense of strangeness, a momentary, uncanny disorientation… until there is the spark of realization that transforms what was strange and uncanny into familiar and understood. Once resolved, the two initially puzzling parts of the poem appear to us the way Freud, relating that vignette, stood in front of his earlier self and its reflection; the way we stand in front of a Moore, a Hepworth, a Lucian Freud, or the narrator in Conrad’s novel and his secret sharer.

Are you with me? What do you make of the thought that the moment of insight or realization is preceded by the uncanny? That the uncanny in haiku involves being confronted by the juxtaposition of two on the surface unrelated – but on a deeper level related – ideas within a limited space? That the haiku moment does itself involve overcoming this sensation of the uncanny?

Finally, before I go, and in case you are interested, I’d like to mention a couple of places, amongst others, I like to visit for reading poetry, essays, information, learning, fun (in addition to ‘haiku matters’, haiku journals and the homepages of haiku societies!). Do let me know your favorites.

The The Haiku Foundation’s homepage and blog “Troutswirl.” On the same site, among many brilliant features, the THF “Haiku Registry” is the place to get a flavor of the work of haiku poets writing in various forms, from all over the world; the “Montage Archive”  the “Book of the Week,” the “Per Diem: Daily Haiku” panel, and Per Diem Archive are my favorites (esp. since I help out with Per Diem!).

Also, World Kigo Database (whether you appreciate kigo or not), GracegutsIssa’s Untidy Hut   (esp. Small Press Friday and Wednesday Haiku), Shiki Kukai Temporary Archives, are full of essays, criticism, food for thought, poetry, poetry and poetry.

On this note, hopefully leaving you with more questions than answers, having raised smiles as well as eyebrows, I’d like to say a big thank you to Colin Stewart Jones, and goodbye to folks who found their way here, from both the writer and reader in me.

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The Wikipedia on the Uncanny here
Sigmund Freud, ‘The Uncanny’ in The Uncanny, ed. by Adam Phillips (London: Penguin Classics, 2003) p. 121-161.
Conrad, Joseph, The Secret Sharer can be read here

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Photo and image manipulation: Stella Pierides

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WHERE THE LIGHT GETS IN

Where the light gets in (by Stella Pierides)

Barbara Hepworth, sculptor, created her first pierced form in 1931, the year she gave birth to her child.

Barbara Hepworth – Oval Sculpture

Jeanette Winterson, appraising Hepworth’s creation in her essay “The Hole of Life,” sees this as a breakthrough not only in art, but also in the understanding of human existence. Pointing to the advances in science – in which, far from a universe of oppositions (like mind and matter, space and form), Einstein, Planck, and others conceived of a universe in constant play, forever involved in creative tension – Winterson shows Hepworth’s sculpture to be a timely response to them.

“The atom itself, the supposed building-block of matter, was no longer an object, but an energy – points of light surrounded by empty space.”

and:

“If the scientists were right, and space is as much a part of form as mass, then it is the space we need to see – but how? Hepworth made an astonishing discovery the day she pierced one of her sculptures. She allowed us to see nothing – a privilege previously enjoyed only by God.”

Nothing and everything! Winterson understands Hepworth to have mirrored the new developments in theorizing about the cosmos in her hole forms as the (w)hole of life, expanding space to include the invisible, and connecting to both time (in terms of the past) and timelessness in her sculptures

Henry Moore, who had studied art at the same time as Hepworth, grappled with spatial form and in his attempts to give it an extra perspective, cut holes through his sculptures soon after her. Of the various interpretations this act has received, I prefer the one which conceives of it as offering a 3-D perspective (literally and metaphorically) to the viewer.

What if we were to play with Winterson’s take on the holes in Hepworth’s sculptures, along with Moore’s contribution, and relate them to ‘the cut’ in haiku? What if we ‘saw’ the space between the two juxtaposed ideas, between the two parts (not only the pause created by the punctuation) as being more than an empty hole to be filled-in, or a gap to be crossed, but as an energy field being fueled by and fueling meaning? We wouldn’t be the first of course*, but the thought experiment is exciting… Do you resonate with this idea?

And, even though I am oversimplifying, isn’t there a paradox here: cutting away in order to create extra depth (which is where Hepworth and Moore come in)?

Photo of a poster displayed in the Roman Baths, Archaeological Park, Kempten

Photo of a poster displayed in the Roman Baths, Archaeological Park, Kempten

One might see a similar paradox in the writings of Winnicott, the English pediatrician and psychoanalyst. For instance, in “The Capacity to be Alone,” he argues that one achieves creative aloneness if, as a child, one had the experience of being in the presence of a watchful, but non-intrusive parent. The capacity for attachment is required before one can deal with loss; the capacity to foresee and accept loss, before love can be truly there, and so on. – I see the opening or cutting away in order to increase the perceived depth and space to be similar to this approach.

Interestingly, there is another paradox giving rise to a ‘hole,’ if we look at the opposite case scenario – where it seems that everything is being said, without any ‘holes.’ Lucian Freud, the painter, painted men and women in their naked, real, and true form. He studied his sitters over months or years, revealing in the portrait the person they happened to be (as he saw them) through paying particular attention to their skin.

In a perceptive essay, Dodds,**  points out:

“there is an evocation of abjection, of the corporeal mother who must be symbolically expelled in order for the subject to come into being. And yet rather than staging a ‘rite of defilement’, there is a fascination, we are drawn in. The ‘glare’ of the portraits refers both to the external sources of light reflected on bodily surfaces, and also glare as in look, the stare… We are caught in the gaze of bodies. After first looking away… there is a return, to the folds, the textures, the touch and smell, the loving portrait of every bump of skin, to a fascination with Freud’s cartography of flesh.”

Even when everything is said and done, the people portrayed by Lucian Freud are there and not there. The person is present and absent at the same time: present in their corporeality, yet – like a psychoanalysis which is never finished – their portrait does not say it all. What it says is what has been rejected by social and cultural values, yet by saying so, by bringing in the abject, it rejects socio-cultural values, thus creating a ‘hole.’ The viewer has work to do.

The haiku reader too. From the monumental portrait to the miniscule text: it is not the physical size or amount of detail that matter when it comes to the energy available and the meaning(s) generated – especially through the cut – in haiku. In the haiku moment that the opening of the ‘hole’ creates, a space is entered that is a whole world.

An essay by Jeanette Winterson on Barbara Hepworth and her response to the concept of ‘hole’, originally published in Tate Magazine, can be found here

*For the cut: “like a spark plug that enables a spark to leap the gap” by Michael Dylan Welch in his essay “Haiku . . . Under the Bedsheets: Juxtaposition and Seasonal Reference” in Graceguts

For “The Capacity to be Alone,” an entry point might be here. The paper itself, can be found here

If you are interested in the angle of Lucian Freud and the ‘abject’ you can find a short essay here, together with paintings!

** Based on a paper read to the Czech Psychoanalysis Society on 28 May 2011, “Confronting the Abject: Reflections on Rotraut De Clerck’s (2011) ‘How deep is the skin? Surface and Depth in Lucian Freud´s Female Nudes’” (Dodds 2011b).

On the wider issues relating to space in haiku: “Haiku and its Relationship to Space” by Tracy Koretsky, in the homepage of the New Zealand Poetry Society

BLIND SPOTS

Blind Spots

Blind Spots

Blind Spots

By Stella Pierides

This post is about blind spots, shadows, and the darkness in our minds as readers (and writers).

There are corners and alleys in texts into which  we, as readers, may be sidetracked, trapped, and lose our way. The best illustration of this affliction I came across is from another genre, Conrad’s novel “Heart of Darkness” – which I very much like – and Achebe’s criticism of it. I will assume that you have either read this novel or a synopsis of it.

There had been huge praise for this novel over the years. Critics had written about aspects of imperialism, hair, clothes, rivers, language in it – yet, one aspect had gone unnoticed in so many readers’ and critics’ reading. I hadn’t noticed it myself either. Achebe, in his reading of the novel, saw a text underpinned by racism, and pointed to a need in Western psychology

“to set up Africa as a foil in Europe, a place of negations at once remote and vaguely familiar in comparison with which Europe’s own state of spiritual grace will be manifest”

The novel presented Africa as ‘the other world’, a chaotic, corrupting continent, sharing with the West only ancient roots of kinship which were, however, long ago overcome. Such an image of Africa, Achebe pointed out, satisfied a psychological need to get rid of, to disavow what had been repressed and disowned; and it was a dangerous image to be challenged. Instead, it had to be reinforced. Achebe’s criticism – that Conrad’s masterpiece, attempting to examine the European psyche, compromised African humanity by this juxtaposition – illustrates a defamiliarization process, in which the familiar common humanity is denied and the ‘other’ is created.

While at first, years ago, I felt shocked by Achebe’s reading of Heart of Darkness (was Achebe being oversensitive, misreading Conrad’s intention of exposing undercurrents in Western culture?), I came to agree with it; it opened my eyes to the blind spots a whole community of writers and readers, every one of us, may be prone to. Achebe, in his interview in Paris Review, “The Art of Fiction”  is quoted saying:

“… all these people who see nothing about racism in Heart of Darkness, I’m convinced that we must really be living in different worlds. … Until these two worlds come together we will have a lot of trouble.”

How could such a massive failure to ‘see’ happen? Had readers, before Achebe, been reading ‘passively,’ submitting themselves to Conrad’s words without thinking, or approaching the text indeed from another world? In such a scenario, Achebe was best placed to see, and bring to our attention, the other side.

Returning to the haiku world and its readers: this is not to imply that some haiku readers, or writers, suffer from a particularly dark streak/from prejudiced thinking, but to illustrate how we are all prone to oversights, blind spots, are subject(s) to our cultural, historical, national environments’ influences. How, like Conrad’s earlier readers, we may be led to overlook, or overreact to, certain aspects in others’ and our own work. Achebe again, when asked what pointed him in the direction of writing:

“There is that great proverb – that until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter… Once I realized that, I had to be a writer.”

Novels and haiku, perhaps the longest and shortest forms, also belong to different worlds, yet I tend to think we benefit from looking at the history and critical readings of both. It may spark insights, awareness of something we might have been missing. Wouldn’t it be useful to bear the possibility of blind spots in mind when we are differentiating between the various haiku traditions, when we are thinking about the content of haiku poetry? When reflecting on the issue of our identity(ies) as readers and poets? When we ponder, or pen, poems about illness, aging, the young, minorities, disadvantaged groups? When, in other words, we are faced with the ‘other’?

Achebe is widely said to have brought to our awareness the African perspective. Might we say that by doing so, Achebe, like Freud, Jung and others, made it possible to accept that our minds, even when open, even when filled with kindness, generosity, benevolence, and respect, at the same time contain blind spots and darkness?

Conrad, Joseph “Heart of Darkness” see Wikipedia for some of the history of the perceptions/reader appreciation of this novel.
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Achebe, Chinua, “An Image of Africa”, The Massachusetts Review, 18 (Winter 1977), 782-794
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Achebe, Chinua, interview in Paris Review, “The Art of Fiction
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Interested in following this issue in poetry in general? See Poets.org, “Open Letter: A Dialogue on Race and Poetry”, by Claudia Rankine (with Tony Hoagland’s response)
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And something that caught my eye during my internet travels: If something isn’t there in our field of vision: “what isn’t, what can’t be” from a poem “Blind Spot” by Beth Thomas.

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Image: Stella Pierides

WITH AN OPEN MIND (/MAP)

Tabula Peutingeriana

Tabula Peutingeriana (part of)

Map-making has been traced back to the earliest of times. Maps help us orient, know our location, what other places there are, how to get there, what landmarks to look out for, depict how places are interconnected. They also help us with perspective-taking: we can picture our place as seen from someone else’s viewpoint, and vice versa. Although maps often turned out to be distorted or inadequate –  the ‘flat earth’, for instance – and were replaced by improved ones, they were always part of our shared search for certainty.

Think of the time when maps had to be redrawn to incorporate scientific rather than theological notions of the earth. Reluctantly, we realized we were no longer the unique children of God, at the top of creation, living on an earth at the center of the universe, but tiny dots drifting along in a vast cosmos. The invention of the telescope allowed us to look beyond our narrow confines, revealing our common and humble origin and place in the world. Isn’t there a semblance here to what the internet and social media are doing today: making us realize that, rather than being solipsistic, only children, we are members of a large family sharing similar talents, creative ideas, concerns, ambitions?

Our need for map-making also extends to reading, as well as writing, haiku. While, as readers, we bring along our personal, familial, local, ideological baggage and while we open our hearts as well, we also need a map for finding our bearings in the haiku world, for becoming aware of the various ways this poetic form appears in; to stay with the metaphor, for knowing the position of other ‘planets’ or ‘stellar systems’ and their orbits and gravitational pulls.

Here is an instance of cartography in the haiku universe. In his essay in Frogpond, “Haiku as a Rhetorical Art. Haiku Poetics: Objective, Subjective, Transactional and Literary Theories”, Randy Brooks, following the Aristotelian tradition, considers the relationship between the basic elements of communication in writing – which he lists as reality, writer, reader, and language – and expands on a number of writing theories: the objective, subjective, transactional, and literary. If you bear with me, I’ll try to summarize them in one paragraph (the brevity here does them injustice – I urge you to follow up the link for the full map). But before I do, I’d like to quote Brooks’ caveat:

“…there is no ‘one way’ to write haiku, no single haiku poetic or haiku tradition to guide the writing and reception of haiku as a literary art. There is no final list of ‘do’s and don’ts’ that will codify the art of reading and writing haiku… On the broader level of haiku as a literary genre, we should embrace the observation that there are several ways, a multitude of traditions, a variety of haiku poetic theories. ”

For the purposes of this post, I’d emphasize that there is no ‘one way’ to read, analyze, or enjoy haiku either. There are the various ‘continents’, ‘planets’ in various orbits on the maps, and once we are aware of them, we can keep our direction or change it, if we wish to, more easily.

According to Brooks, the objective way of writing haiku involves perceiving and reporting nature in plain, objective words that convey direct sensory perception to the reader. The reader ‘steps into’ the writer’s perspective and reads the poem as intended. The subjective way emphasizes the inner, subjective world of the writer, expecting from the reader the role of a fan being interested in and understanding of the writer’s intended meaning; being inspired also to explore her own subjective experience. In transactional haiku poetics, reality is constructed and shared along a common language continuum between writer and reader. The reader is a socially aware partner in the creation of meaning. In literary poetics, writer and reader understand they inhabit a fictional world and use liberally the tools of fiction and poetry. The reader remains seated in the haiku audience, judging the literary merits of the artifact. Brooks notes a further poetical category in which some poems fit, that of disjunction, where one of the key elements of communication are intentionally omitted. For instance, the writer may be a software program, producing poems in some cases without even recording them, entirely unconcerned as to the existence of a reader.

All approaches, the latter excepted, require a certain degree of position and attitude from the reader as well as the writer. It may be that the transactional approach is the one which gives the reader the most say, the most ‘power’ vis-à-vis the writer. Through the cut, the season word, the juxtaposition of images, the disjunction, the reader, responding to the tension(s) created by the writer, contributes to the meaning of the poem, using her own experience, imagination, associations, gut response… In such a scenario, the writer may think she wrote a good enough haiku, but a reader’s reading may make it an exceptional one! Unfortunately, the reverse may be the case, too.

The Crab Nebula

Besides Brooks’ classification scheme, other haiku taxonomies have been developed. For instance, in his essay in Simply Haiku, “An Analysis of Haiku in 12-dimensional Space”, Charles Trumbull discusses a taxonomy of 12 independent dimensions, including: haiku ideology/aesthetics/poetics (Japanese vs. Western); haiku point of view (objective vs. subjective); haiku audience (to be shared vs. self-expression).

Basically, such taxonomies conceive of any haiku/poet as occupying a point in a multi-dimensional space or ‘cloud’ where the dimensions are fundamental, independent variables on which each particular haiku/poet is classified. The distribution of haiku matter in this cloud may be unequal, with sets of haiku/poets forming denser ‘galactic systems’ (FB Communities?) and with sparse matter in the inter-galactic space.

I have brought these two essays here for two reasons: first, to illustrate the importance of having a map – as a reader as well as a writer – to see where one is or where one is heading, especially if one reads poems from different traditions several times a day; and second, to remind us of the many varieties of haiku and of writers and readers.

Understanding the varieties of haiku traditions, experiences, forms, histories, and of our own assumptions only helps us be more open to them, navigate the haiku territories, and accept others’ as well as our own position in them. Also, the map-making may help us identify uncharted territories to be discovered and enjoyed in the haiku cosmos.  Let’s boldly go… Or?

Let us know your take in this. How do you ‘read,’ place haiku, if at all? Your favorite maps, cool places to hang out?

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Brooks, Randy: “Haiku as a Rhetorical Art. Haiku Poetics: Objective, Subjective, Transactional and Literary Theories” (Frogpond 34.2, 2011 on the HSA site), http://www.hsa-haiku.org/frogpond/2011-issue34-2/revelationsunedited.html

Trumbull, Charles, “An Analysis of Haiku in 12-dimensional Space” in Simply Haiku: Journal of Haiku and Related Forms, September-October 2004, vol. 2, no. 5

Interested in the idea of the “haikuverse”? See Melissa Allen’s series “Across the Haikuverse” in her blog, Red Dragonfly. Here is just one of the series

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More information about the Peutinger map here:

A copy of this map is displayed in the Augsburg Roman Museum, where about a year ago, I spent an interesting afternoon, tracing roads and countries on it (the Museum is currently closed for repairs).

OPENING THE HEART

Henry Moore sculpture “Large Four Piece Reclining Figure”, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.
Photo by Daderot

Randy Brooks in his essay “Genesis of Haiku: Where do Haiku Come From?” quotes Makoto Ueda explaining in Modern Japanese Haiku,

“Any poem demands a measure of active participation on the part of the reader, but this is especially true of haiku. With only slight exaggeration it might be said that the haiku poet completes only one half of his poem, leaving the other half to be supplied in the reader’s imagination.”

Half of the poem! This places a huge responsibility on readers’ shoulders. It not only invites us to look more closely into the relationship between the writer and the reader – Brooks addresses this issue in this and other papers; it helps us understand some of the sensitivity haiku writers display towards their readers and reviewers; and raises the mark of how we use our haiku ‘receptors’ to read haiku.

Journal editors have their own personal, professional, and journal-specific list of criteria for “reading” haiku. Seasoned readers too, as Rick’s and Tom’s comments on the last blog post illustrate. But as ‘lay’ readers, this side of the divide, so to speak, what do we use to understand and connect with a haiku? In addition to the individual, general and universally shared perspectives (mentioned in post 1) which help us ‘read’ haiku, might there be an additional tool available to us?

Arguably, any individual perspective the reader – lay or seasoned – might take has a dual, though intrinsically linked aspect: one relating to the mind and one to the heart. Concerning the latter, the question above might be posed differently: do we ‘walk’ with an open heart (rather than mind), open to be touched by the sensitivity or strength of a poem, or do we carry a shield, only allowing certain aspects of the poem in, and not others? For instance, even when appreciating a poem ‘intellectually’, are we allowing its essence, its excellence to touch us? Might the ‘heart’ be our most basic tool?

Michael Dylan Welch reflects on this matter in his essay “Seeing Into the Heart: Vulnerability in Haiku”. Welch understands Bashō, who told haiku poets to learn of the pine from the pine, and of the bamboo from the bamboo, as telling us to be vulnerable to the subjects of our haiku, and

“to humble ourselves so that we might learn something, and speak of it authentically. The full teacup cannot receive more tea, so we must empty ourselves, and become vulnerable, in order to receive.”

I like this: a reader’s open heart responding to the writer’s. Humbling ourselves as readers, recognizing, that is, our limitations, our preferences, perspectives, ideologies, so as to be open to others’ difference.
Here’s how Welch puts it,

“When we click with a poem, it’s because we have let down our guard, allowing our emotions to be affected, feeling what the poet felt. The poet has dared to hint at what he or she has felt, and thus lights a candle, proudly yet vulnerably, against the imminent dark.”

Not an easy task, for both writer and reader, as opening the heart is often experienced as tantamount to undergoing open heart surgery. Yet, once accomplished, may we not deservedly lay claim as readers to our fifty per cent/half of the creation of the poem?

Thinking about it now, I am reminded that several of Henry Moore’s sculptures have a hole in the area of the heart. One can only muse at the openings this allows – and we will come back to this hole later on in the month. For now, the thought: it may well be the case that one needs to have a hole in the heart in order to be — as a reader too — whole.

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Brooks, Randy: “Genesis of Haiku: Where do Haiku Come From?”  in Frogpond 34.1 2011
Welch, Michael Dylan: “Seeing Into the Heart: Vulnerability in Haiku” in Graceguts, Essays
(From the writer’s perspective) You may also be interested in:
Cox, Aubrie: “Writing With the Reader as Co-Creator” in mind, in Aubrie Cox

MAY TOPICS AND PICKING HAIKU

Hi Folks,

and a good month to you all. A big thank you to Colin for inviting me to t/his place. Haiku matters to me too.

On the menu this month: a walk or two, a bit of reading, playing with a couple of wild and not so wild ideas, reaching out to and from other genres, while touching on issues relating to the reader all along. Our reader, ourselves as readers, other poets’ readers.

The signposts I will be following:

1: Picking Haiku; 2: Opening the Heart; 3: With an Open Mind; 4: Readers’ Darkness; 5: Where the Light Gets in; 6: Uncanny Attractions.

Picking Haiku

By Stella Pierides

When reading haiku, what is it that attracts you as a reader? What makes you click with one poem and leaves you indifferent towards another? Which qualities speak to you?

Might one draw a parallel between ‘picking’ haiku and beachcombing? Let’s take as an example Henry Moore, the English sculptor (1898-1986). Moore, famous for his monumental semi-abstract sculptures dotted in the landscape all around the world, was inspired by nature. During his walks, he collected stones, shells, driftwood, animal bones, rocks, that he brought back to his studio and kept for inspiration. Some of these ‘found’ objects were singled out as art objects by his artist’s eye, and transformed into works of art. Others became favorite objects to go back to with new questions, kept for inspiration. Like a super-spectator, super-audience or super-reader, he saw the value(s) residing in the shapes, form of sticks, rocks, and stones, picked them up and brought them in from the cold world into his art studio.

In a sense, as writers, we have something in common with Moore and his walks. Through the day, we gather experiences, pick up some in words, discard or ignore others. As readers too, we collect from our walks round the social medialand, from our reading journals and books, from our discussing topics, poetic thoughts or experiences, from the walks in nature and through the cityscapes surrounding us.

From another perspective, appreciating haiku as a crafted, rather than a natural, object may be more akin to appreciating paintings or sculptures on a gallery visit. Works of art hang on gallery walls, are placed in gallery rooms – like haiku sit on the pages of journals and books – for us to observe and mull over; we stand in front of them, around them for a short while, then move on and walk through the rooms – pages – quickly, too quickly often.

Henry Moore’s huge sculptures standing tall or reclining in the landscape demand our attention; whether we see perfection in them or the unruly shapes of our innermost selves, something in them appeals to us as viewers. And while we cannot pick them up physically, they come home with us. So it is with haiku, I believe. Which one speaks to us, creates a reaction in us, which one we pick to remember, to give it a home in our hearts, depends on many factors.

Something in it, in its shape, depth, sensory and sensual appeal resonates with us. There is a personal, familial, local, national, global, colonial, post-colonial, feminist, literary, yet to be named perspective(s) each of us carries, treasures, contributes to and responds with to the world. Often more than one. Hopefully more than one. Naturally, we all differ in our perspectives, ideologies, in our poems, in our choices of haiku.

But there are common, global elements too; essences, values, basics we share as humans that hold together a haiku and bring it to our reader’s eyes fresh from beyond culture, history, limiting perspectives and allegiances. And with our global, in addition to our local, receptors – much like the single neurons and neuronal assemblies we all harbor in the perceptual parts of our brains, each tuned to picking single elements or whole configurations – we are able to pick and enjoy those poems too. Jim Kacian, in his essay “Tapping the Common Well” in Bones: journal for contemporary haiku, while considering what it is about the haiku poem’s universality, points out this extra or underlying dimension:

“It is universal, because what it seeks is not the relative truths of nationalities or religions, but the universal truths between people: that which can be shared, recognized, valued around the world. This does not mean rain and sun mean the same thing to all people: certainly desert-dwellers have very different emotions about such things than those who live in a rain forest… There are always points of view. But haiku express values beyond these regional and economic differences, revealing the truth of things as they are, which is more at the core of how we feel most deeply as people. Haiku finds that which is not superfluous in the hearts of men, and expresses the values found there, as deep as that may go.”

And so in our lives as readers, as well as writers, armed or rather blessed with a variety of sensory and psychological receptors – some uniquely personal, others shared by the whole species – we pick poems that offer us the chance to recognize, come to terms with, or celebrate one moment from the river of our experience, one splinter from the tree of our lives; to reconnect with our humanity and to nourish our being.

So which haiku ‘receptors’ do you use? How do you like your haiku? Let us know here. It would be good to hear your take on this.

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Reference(s):
Kacian, Jim: Tapping the Common Well, in Bones: journal for contemporary haiku, Issue 1, December 15, 2012.