This week I’m celebrating the half way mark of the year I am dedicating to haiku. We’ll be visiting Australia in the company of Giddy Nielson Sweep and I’ll be having a little rant…
Some of the things that I’ve learnt so far:
Writing good haiku is hard, much harder than I thought: I’ve tried not to let that put me off and have continued to write every day, even though the more I learn the more difficult it becomes to write. I often dictate haiku into my phone as I’m taking one of my walks, then when I sit down to write them down, I feel like a rabbit in the headlights. My pen feels like a lump of concrete in my hand.
I discovered early on that you do not have to write haiku in the 5/7/5 format: This is the traditional way of writing haiku. Most of us learn this method at school or in our first discovery of haiku. I was no different. When I first started writing haiku in earnest it was very, very hard to give this up, but when eventually I did, it was very liberating.
It was hard, at first to give up the flowery poetical devices that I learnt at school: For example here are excerpts from one of my all time favourite poems, The Listener by Walter de la Mare
“And his horse in the silence champed the grasses
Of the forest’s ferny floor”
“Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight
To that voice from the world of men:
Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair,
That goes down to the empty hall,
Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken
By the lonely Traveller’s call.”
Keeping the haiku simple, not relying on things like adjectives, and letting my reader exercise their imagination, letting them find their own meaning and not leading them is a little difficult.
The only thing that is capitalised in a haiku is a proper noun.
Now on to a topic that intrigues me. Collective consciousness and haiku.
What do you think the point of haiku is?
I tend to think of it as capturing “small instances of our lives” (1) and sharing them with others, evoking some emotional response or an aha moment.
Now whilst the haiku remained in Japan, or conformed to the rules of Japanese haiku then there was a code by which you could understand them. Writing within one cuulture for one culture, it was possible that most people would understand your haiku. There were certain words which would give you a clue as to what season it was, for example. Certain symbols that indicated the cut. But haiku has escaped from Japan, we have appropriated the haiku in the west and as Charles Trumball suggests, “the elaborate seasonal understanding that developed in Japan exports badly to the West.” (2)
Now that haiku is global we cannot have a shared or collective consciousness. For example, take the Camelia, Trumball points out in an essay for the New Zealand Haiku Society that “to the Japanese, the blossoms symbolise sudden death, undoubtedly because they suddenly drop from the bush. whilst in the west,” in so far as they symbolise anything “the camellia is a symbol of excellence and steadfastness.” (2) I have to admit that it symbolises nothing to me apart from a beautiful perfume.
I’d love to know your opinion, do you write in a symbolic way? Or do you capture those small instances of your life using words that are meaningful to you, without regard for the meaning in other cultures or countries?
There was a study undertaken in the ‘60s by James and Gayle Bull to judge seasonal understanding in various geographical regions. (3) They came to this conclusion:
“as any kind of art must evoke emotion, and as emotion cannot be evoked but in terms of a work’s substance, and as haiku substance is not a little dependent upon natural phenomena and experience thereof, from a seasonal point of view the full emotional dimension of a given haiku is likely to be lost on a vast segment of the population.” (3)
I wonder if you extrapolate this further to cover the meaning of experiences described within the haiku, does this mean that a great number of the global population will not understand your haiku because they have not experienced that which you have experienced?
Take that a step further, if we are to share experiences globally, must we write haiku only about things which are contained within our global consciousness? I give you Instagram as an example. The most popular photos on instagram are on things we can all understand, the beauty of a leaf, sunlight, wonderful sunsets or dawns. All these are beautiful, but the idea of limiting my haiku to collective consciousness topics, feelings or experiences depresses me somewhat.
I like to think that reading haiku expands the mind. That when we read haiku we are prepared to be challenged by what we read, to learn things we have not experienced. That means we often have to read and reread haiku to glean the information we need to come to a meaningful conclusion. Not swipe away the haiku because its meaning is not immediately apparent or the experience is not one which you share. What do you think?
I’ll leave you with this thought:
“From any poet, at any time, it is possible to discover poems that are profound, meaningful or affecting, if we are prepared to give them a sympathetic hearing.” (4)
Rant over. Let’s move on…
Let’s go to Australia where we meet Giddy Nielsen Sweep again.
Before I go on, congrats to Giddy, she was published in the latest Cicada’s cry. They are now taking submissions for the summer issue, but you need to get going, they close at the end of the month.
Well done Giddy.
Giddy has started her own haiku group in Brisbane, the Bombora Group and tells me that things are going well so far.
You may also remember that Giddy and her editor Dawn are putting together a book, Breathe Haiku. They have discovered that they actually have too much content for one book so will begin with a book containing Australian haiku only. I’ll keep you posted on the book’s progress.
Today Giddy is sharing this with us.
curlew cries outside
I cry inside
I don’t have any experience of a curlew, but I have substituted the cry of a lone bird from my part of the world and this poem just breaks my heart. Can you feel it too!
This haiku has, for me, found the collective consciousness successfully. Why? Because as Michael Dylan Welch says “the goal of haiku is frequently to create an emotion, so if you have a feeling of sadness or joy or melancholy or some other emotion in reaction a particular haiku, that’s really the point.” (5)
To close, I shall offer you something of my own.
I was in the city of London not so long ago. It’s my home town, so I was visiting friends and family.
When I am in London now, I delight in being a tourist and this time I spent some time in the city, the financial centre. It has so much history to explore.
The weather was unseasonably warm and I watched a homeless woman sitting on the pavement wriggling her toes in the warmth, while the workers walked past. This was the resulting haiku:
a homeless woman
wiggles her bare toes—
stilettos walk by
Can you see the picture?
Remember that I am still accepting submission for the “memory” special until May 23rd. You will find a submissions page on the website, poetrypea.com
Thanks for listening. I promise no ranting next week when we shall be off to Canada with our guest haiku poet.
Take care and keep writing!
3. James Bull and Gayle Bull, “Season Reference in Japanese and American Haiku,” American Haiku, 5:1 (1967).