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Autumn 2009, vol 7 no 3
 
 

Unfit At Any Speed: The Author's Response to Jane Reichhold's "How Poems Of Consciousness Fail [sic] To Demonstrate The Disjunctive Dragonfly"
Richard Gilbert (August 2009)

 

Jane Reichhold, in her essay, “How Poems Of Consciousness Fail [sic] To Demonstrate The Disjunctive Dragonfly” (LYNX XXIV:2, June, 2009; available at: snipurl.com/j4adz) makes claims which are spurious and defamatory. Among them is her bizarre statement that I've stolen her ideas (which she at the same time disagrees with in her essay). She writes: “his listing of the haiku techniques, which I first discovered and he has now renamed and claimed as his own …” is a patent fabrication. A charge of plagiarism must be taken seriously, and this short essay provides a response.

My long paper “The Disjunctive Dragonfly: A Study of Disjunctive Method and Definitions in Contemporary English-language Haiku” was mainly inspired by email conversations with two colleagues, Jim Kacian and Philip Rowland. In 2003 we were working towards a new anthology of haiku in English (this work continues). I was contemplating possible conceptual approaches to groupings of types of haiku which would provide new ways of conceiving of the genre as a whole. After being involved in haiku composition for some decades, I was feeling more urgently that aspects of haiku, elements and techniques I most appreciated and was passionate about, remained un-discussed and unappreciated. In a burst of activity over several days which stretched to weeks, some of the categories of techniques appeared in my emails to my colleagues. The inspiration came from a single haiku, by Jim Kacian, which I referred to in the title of my paper as “the disjunctive dragonfly.” Here is that work:

my fingerprints on the dragonfly in amber

which won a third-place prize in the 2003 Kusamakura Haiku Competition, held in Kumamoto, Japan. As one of the judges, I had been in part responsible for its selection. The haiku (as excellent haiku will do) stuck in my mind, and I was moved to defend and promote this innovative mode of haiku composition. My main goal in the “Disjunctive Dragonfly” paper and elsewhere has been in part to inspire readers and poets by expanding the conception of haiku in English via the presentation of a new vocabulary of haiku techniques, thereby extending the range of critical inquiry. In this effort my research focus had been influenced by the field of literary linguistics—I had been introduced to PALA (The Poetics and Linguistics Association) by my friend and colleague in Kumamoto, Professor Masahiro Hori, during the editing of his book, Investigating Dickens' Style: A Collocational Analysis (Palgrave, 2004); we worked together for several years prior to its publication. Perhaps this recounting will serve to verify the originality of my work, and its intention. Seventeen disjunctive categories for haiku were developed, the work involving months of searching through 1000s of haiku to provide examples. Here are the disjunctive categories:

1) Perceptual disjunction, 2) Overturning semantic expectation, 3) Misreading as meaning, 4) Linguistic oxymoron, 5) Imagistic fusion, 6) Metaphoric fusion, 7) Symmetrical rhythmic substitution, 8) Concrete disjunction, 9) Rhythmic disjunction, 10) The impossibly true, 11) Displaced mythic resonance, 11) Misplaced anthropomorphism, 13) The unsatisfactory object, 14) Pointing to the missing subject, 15) Semantic register shift, 16) Elemental animism, 17) Irruptive collocation.

The key to the disjunctive concept is that in haiku disjunction impels coherence, which, I try to demonstrate, though paradoxical is evident and indeed part of the uniqueness defining the haiku genre. Original creative work is hard won—substantiating work academically provides clear, evidential arguments, and verifiable rationales for novel concepts. An aspect of this work concerns a demonstration of familiarity with the history of haiku in English; a topic I first addressed in a co-authored paper, “From 5-7-5 to 8-8-8: Haiku Metrics and Issues of Emulation—New Paradigms for Japanese and English Haiku Form” (March 2000). I believe the title alone conveys a longstanding research interest and approach. (Published papers are available at: research.gendaihaiku.com .)

I will comment briefly on Ms. Reichhold's own thesis in her essay, in which she presents her definition of haiku:

… that small pivot, that pinpoint where two images cross, while stretching the mind as far as one can and then to create the words that call up additional images that take the reader by the hand while crossing from one to the other. That is haiku. That is how it works.

This is the definition, "that small pivot, that pinpoint" "stretching the mind" that will "create the words" "call up additional images" and "take the reader by the hand" "while crossing": "That is haiku. That is how it works." Such obscure prose suggests Ms. Reichhold seems in need of education concerning the critical essay. As a BA paper, it would receive a fair amount of red ink, as the terms used (“pivot” “pinpoint” “stretching the mind” “by the hand”) remain undefined.

I would like as well to address Ms. Reichhold's personal attack, concerning sexism. She writes:

What the world does not need is a bunch of them [men] ganging up, ignoring women, who do more of the writing than they do, and then discussing with pursed lips and pages of gestures how mysterious it is and yet how they know it all—with footnotes. Most of the references to books Gilbert studied are by men ...

Through my research (found in part at: gendaihaiku.com ) and in my book Poems of Consciousness, the poetry, life and thought of Uda Kiyoko, Onishi Yasuyo, and Yagi Mikajo have become known for the first time outside of Japan, via live interview and translated materials (if it matters, women poets represent 50% of my work, as the other three poets I researched and interviewed in the book were male). I received a grant from the Japan Ministry of Education to perform this research, which took several years. Perhaps Ms. Reichhold missed not only this freely online-available research, but also the whole book chapters? When references and endnotes are involved (I use no footnotes), one is seeking to provide evidence, proof. Veracity, I submit, is not and should not be dictated by gender, or gender-weighed by tonnage.

In "The Disjunctive Dragonfly" article, and in the book Poems of Consciousness, there is an extensive discussion of coherence; how haiku coheres via the vehicle of, and in contrast to, disjunction. I discuss how this seemingly paradoxical quality may be a defining hallmark of the haiku genre. Ms. Reichhold writes that I do not understand, "That one of the aspects of poetry is about finding oneness in the world and showing it to others." Perhaps Ms. Reichhold missed the discussion of "coherence" and implications of this term, which is equal in importance to ideas of disjunction.

I do not feel Ms. Reichhold's term “oneness” above is academically sufficient, unless the term is delimited and defined with care. An experience of “oneness” is not one whose quality is easily agreed upon—in fact, some would deny the experience altogether, others might call it mystical or religious or sacred, and such an experience might vary in its significance and symbolism by culture—all such permutations need consideration and treatment at an academic level. In fact it's this kind of writing, regarding haiku, that has earned the genre and its adherents a poor critical reception on the part of scholars and literary critics. The grounding of my work is in a secular-humanist western academic framework, as a result. Words like “oneness” obfuscate unless they are carefully defined—something Jane does not attempt anywhere in her writing. 

The further evolution of "coherence" can be seen in my paper "Plausible Deniability: Nature as Hypothesis in English-language Haiku," particularly in 'Section 3: Out of the Water—Towards Linguistic Depiction,' where Nick Virgillio's "Lily" haiku is discussed. "Plausible Deniability" was recently published in Stylistic Studies of Literature (Peter Lang 2009). The three book editors are internationally known linguistics scholars. (Please see:  www.peterlang.com/Index.cfm?vID=11816 vLang=D .)

One of my central aspirations has been to raise the estimation of haiku in English to a level of serious valuation and interest on the part of academics, so this publication means something to me personally. A small action, whose intent is to create further interest in and arouse the curiosity of teachers and scholars. It is difficult to see how the haiku genre will continue and remain strong without the participation of educators and the researches and passion of students. Ms. Reichhold also labels me as one of what seems a veritable male horde: “pseudo-academics, who unable to write poetry, attempting to fill books with complete nonsense . . . ." Hopefully the reader can judge Ms. Reichhold's ability to discriminate between “pseudo” and “academic,” as her essay mirrors her acumen on this topic. The charge of “unable to write poetry” must be left to reader discretion. My haiku (which I began publishing over 30 years ago) have been most recently included in the last several issues of Noon: Journal of the Short Poem. In the Afterword to Poems of Consciousness, a selection of my published work appears, obviously not to Ms. Reichhold's taste.

I do not think my ideas represent the "right" or "true" critical approach to haiku. The references contained in those works Ms. Reichhold eschews build a verifiable logical case, but more importantly, to my way of thinking, provide further avenues of contemplation and study—and potentially innovative avenues of composition. It's hopefully part of the excitement of reading academic articles on haiku, to learn further about excellent haiku in English, to get turned on. I look forward to more fruitful discussions, as there is much remaining to be discussed.

In closing, three reviews of Poems of Consciousness have been published since the book appeared, the first is a capsule review by William Higginson, available at: www.snipurl.com/psele (Red Moon Press). It begins:

In Poems of Consciousness, Richard Gilbert investigates Japanese haiku in the flesh. He not only reports on what he has gleaned from books about haiku, but includes interviews with and writings by living Japanese haiku masters. Here you will meet some of today's most widely respected poets. Kiyoko Uda has been at the forefront of haiku's growing popularity among younger poets for the past several decades. She recently became president of the Modern Haiku Association—the most avant-garde of Japan's major haiku organizations. Hasegawa Kai leads the contemporary reexamination of all our assumptions about the haiku of the past and points the way ahead for this new century. These and others provide striking poems—in Gilbert's insightful translations—that will, along with his own provocative essays, make anyone familiar with the haiku genre rethink their understanding of this brand new poetry.

William Higginson
Feb 16, 2008
(letter to the publisher)

A second review, “Poems of Consciousness by Richard Gilbert, A Review by Johnye Strickland, ”appeared in Simply Haiku 6:2, Summer 2008. It begins:

Have you ever wondered where the rebels were among 20th Century Japanese haiku poets? In an era when rebellion against the previous poetic traditions (or schools, as we used to call them) came fast and sometimes furious in the West, it seemed unlikely that haiku poets in a country so far advanced in culture as Japan would be oblivious to the literary developments in the world around them. Richard Gilbert has found them—the gendai (contemporary) haiku poets. As Jim Kacian points out in the Introduction, one of Gilbert's "specific contributions . . . [is] a new nomenclature and classification system, which has enabled us to rekindle the conversation about what haiku poets in the west are up to, without being limited to the language, sensibility and techniques employed by another culture for other purposes four centuries ago."

A third review, “A Gift Of Freedom: Interpenetration in Haiku,” by Dimitar Anakiev, appeared in Frogpond 31:3, Winter 2008, and is available at: research.gendaihaiku.com/freedom . It begins:

Richard Gilbert's Poems of Consciousness represents the first voice in Anglo-American haiku criticism to brings to an international readership democracy instead of authority. This anti-dogmatic book tears down the prejudices which have been built up and culminated over decades of English-language haiku theory. In this work the genre is rescued from overly complex ideologies and refreshed by concepts inspired by simple and common poetic truths.

Readers may be interested in alternative viewpoints. A 2nd, expanded edition of Poems of Consciousness is planned for 2011.