Tracks in the Sand
column by George Swede
A Six-Hundred-Year-Old Tree
do these four poems have in common?
A slippery sex
give birth to gold
over the rim of years
my name’s skin
d rain pipe suds den sh
were published as variations on traditional haiku, i.e.,
as attempts to forge new directions.
Natsuishi and Reichhold try to do so through the use
of unusual metaphors while
maintaining the haiku form. Gorman and Amann
choose a different path, deconstruction of the form to the
poems no longer resemble haiku in appearance.
Colin Martindale has studied the ways poets seek to be original
across decades of British
and concluded that the methods are chiefly like
the two illustrated above. Poets try to be novel
(unusual associations) or by breaking down an
existing form. The poems by Natsuishi and Reichhold typify
the first approach
and those by Gorman and Amann, the second.
Octavio Paz, such pursuit of the original became dominant during
the early 19th
the rise of Romanticism:
Romantic era onward, a work of art had to be unique and inimitable.
literature has since
assumed the form of a series of antagonistic
movements: Romanticism, Realism, Naturalism, Symbolism. Tradition
is no longer a continuity, but a series of sharp breaks.
The modern tradition is a tradition of revolt (p.
Paz mentions are concerned more with changes in content than in
of form became
popular in the twentieth century with
who advocated the surreal, the visual or a focus on the
meaning of language in terms of letters and syllables
seems to have a similar history. In his study of Japanese twentieth-century
Ueda found various permutations of
Shiki’s famous scriptures
for a modern version of haiku and also some parallels
with developments in Western poetry, such as Symbolism
and Surrealism. The poems by Natsuishi and Reichhold
confirm that Symbolism and Surrealism, respectively,
still hold the interest of some haiku poets today. What
seemingly did not concern modern Japanese haiku poets,
at least those
discussed by Ueda, was the deconstruction
form as illustrated
Gorman and Amann’s
the four haiku at the start of this column make up a small
minority among the thousands of new haiku
work hardly ever gets into the major haiku periodicals
and anthologies. The traditional
haiku that dominate publication are, of course, not all
the same. Each mainstream haiku poet wants to be distinct,
in subtle ways
through variations in content, line breaks, syllable
count and, occasionally, the use
of a fresh, but not mind-bending metaphor, such as the
one in the haiku I picked as winner for the 2004 San
a turban of pigeons
unwinds the hour
—Beverly A. Tift
speaks of the diminished power of tradition in poetry, he does
the haiku in mind because
the form remains
tradition and continues
to thrive like a six-hundred-year-old tree with all
its foliage. It is nourished
by a philosophical outlook that eschews the expression
of ego and encourages looking at the world in an
attract like-minded individuals to the haiku and
who are then motivated to maintain
the form’s integrity.
Just how long
will the ancient haiku tree continue to live? As with many other
questions, this one has
Gorman, L.; & Swede, G. the space between. Glen
Birnie, MD: Wind Chimes Press, 1986.
Gorman, L. heavyn.
Port Charlotte, FL: the Runaway Spoon Press, 1992.
C. The Clockword Muse. New York: Basic Books, 1990.
A Future Waterfall. Winchester, VA: Red Moon Press, 2004.
Paz, O. Alternating
Current. London: Wildwood House.
Layers of Content. Gualala, CA: AHA Books, 1993.
Ueda, M. Modern
Japanese Haiku. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1976.
2005: Simply Haiku