RW: Recently you said, "Contemporary Japanese principles and techniques
of haiku have yet to be properly integrated and valued in English haiku
composition and thought. It may also be said that the era when the English
haiku itself might provide an effective, autonomous aesthetic basis for
critical judgment has yet to arrive.” How different is
Occidental haiku from Japanese haiku?
RG: The question you
ask could well become a book in itself—there
are many facets and perspectives one could start from. I’ll direct
my comparison to the modern Japanese haiku sphere. Specifically, the phrase “contemporary
Japanese principles and techniques” is meant to contrast with the
classical Japanese tradition, which has been the main focus of western haiku
thought and practice. Contemporary or gendai haiku (“modern Japanese
haiku”), while retaining classical principles at heart has undergone
a series of radical evolutions much as the western arts have, say from post-impressionism
(roughly contemporary to Shiki) to our artistic and cultural present. I
have come to value, theoretically and compositionally, the magnitude and
diversity of change in Japanese haiku over the last century. Many of the
issues raised by modern western artists were likewise raised by modern Japanese
artists, though of course in a different historico-cultural context. There
are points of commonality in confronting “the modern.”
I wonder whether the
English haiku world, through a classicist/traditionalist focus on one
of haiku, has so far avoided not only modern Japanese
literary history but also our own modern-art corpus. By setting out
a narrow set of classicist-inspired rules and definitions, the English-language
seems to have largely sidestepped western art theories and perspectives
concerning poetry, modernity and reality. There may be some irony in
gendai haiku represent a century of modern challenges to haiku form;
consequently, there is an observable integration and validation of gendai
contemporary Japanese literature. In fact, postwar gendai evolution
was contemporaneous with the developing “traditionalist” English
as readers involves the incorporation of modern Japanese and western perspectives
alike, including cubism, surrealism,
realism, postmodernism and such, as these relate to haiku. I'm reminded
of the gendai poet Hoshinaga Fumio, who recently commented that “realism
. . . was a brief, temporary movement.” We might fruitfully discuss
the problem of realism in western haiku; it seems the valuation of realism
is a sticking point. In Japan, such discussions were on the table decades
ago. And, aren’t classical haiku really a form of modern poetry to
us, in English? In a curious twist, when I began reading Bashō, thirty years
ago, I found his works to be postmodern—before that formal literary
category existed! There’s something about the haiku aesthetic
and style, classical or otherwise, that is very fresh, postmodern, futurist.
All haiku are modern to us, aren't they?
Modern poetry often
uses language freely (slang, dialect, idiolect) and irruptively (Stein,
language poetry, etc.). Japanese gendai
haiku continues to undergo development. Imagine meeting a person who felt
that the evolution of painting ended with post-impressionism—you
might consider such an attitude provincial. Broadly speaking then, gendai
haiku exhibit many of the principles, theories and techniques found in
modern poetry or modern arts generally. Specific techniques would need
for discussion. A number of haiku critics have rightly upheld the unique
stylism of haiku, but overstated or reduced the intention, and thereby
misread the modern. To give an example, George Swede declared that Ezra
1913 In a Station of the Metro “is often described as a haiku by
persons with only a tenuous knowledge of the form.” Notwithstanding
his remark, Pound’s poem has also been described as an excellent
haiku by those well-familiar with haiku. It's worth quoting Swede’s
reasoning: "Successful as a short poem, it fails as a haiku because
only the first line deals with an immediate experience while the second
line involves the
of an image that the poet uses overtly as a metaphor. A haiku is a haiku
because all the images it conveys occur simultaneously in a person's present
preceptions (sic) of the world (Haiku in English in North America http://pages.infinit.net/haiku/histnortham.htm)."
I don’t think such a statement can be accepted, in terms of what Swede
is saying about memory. In fact, the memory he’s speaking of is occurring “in
a person’s [the reader’s] present perceptions of the world” along
with the rest of the poem, isn’t it. I feel that Swede overstates
and reduces the genre in his sine qua non, elegant as it is. I’m
reminded of this haiku by Jim Kacian (found in his Presents of Mind):
looking out the window
which plays with the ‘moment’ of time and memory as a central
feature of its haiku action. Which moment is immanent? I like this haiku
precisely because immanence is distributed, so to speak. Swede uses this
phrase: “haiku is a haiku because” in his critique. I think
the truth of what haiku are, considering the range of haiku, is rather more
difficult to nail down than a “because” and a definitive answer-in-a-phrase,
as regards moments, memory, metaphor. This is one of the new departures
that is now occurring in the genre: an expansion of technique and validation.
By examining gendai
haiku, we may be aided in finding linkages, means and modes in which haiku
can be fused or blended with elements
modern poetry. In other words, rapprochement. I wonder to what extent
the western haiku genre has rejected other modern poetic genres in its quest
for exclusive definition? Have we thrown out too much of the baby with
bathwater? The two questions, what is haiku? and, what can haiku be? are
as relevant now as they were in 1950. Regarding gendai haiku principles
and techniques, there are challenging issues of cultural context and translation
to consider, as we’re talking about twelve decades of modern art.
Where have our haiku pundits been, in these recent decades? One answer
is, developing a tradition, laying down the bedrock; certainly valid work.
along the way, western haiku writers who have had modern ideas, and wished
to experiment (often in ways similar to Japanese gendai haiku poets) have
became discouraged, and even been castigated for their efforts.
Since we already have “modern haiku” in English, it’s
not easy to choose a term which would imply contemporary—in an expansive
sense. Gendai principles and techniques do exist uniquely in English; something
presented in The Disjunctive Dragonfly – certain disjunctive types
may be more effective in English than Japanese—imagistic fusion, for
instance, and certain forms of rhythmic usage. I find modern haiku to be
tremendously exciting, profound and fresh, and wish we’d been able
to forge a bond with our Japanese gendai brethren of the 60s and 70s.
That would have been interesting, as many of those poems were allied in
or perspective to modern western poetry in those eras.
Any excellent haiku
is uniquely creative, existing in a national, regional context and language.
gendai haiku are an inspiration in English,
techniques that are fitting in a Japanese context (concerns that crop
up in a 400-year-old genre), may not be relevant. So a gendai development
English isn’t necessarily a matter of “capturing” a tradition—emulation
takes you only so far. In this sense, one of the biggest differences between
Japanese and occidental haiku is that of validity. Japanese haiku is central
to the identity of Japanese literature, while English haiku has not yet
produced a well-known poet writing in the genre as a means of recognition;
we’re still working towards that day.
Some want their haiku
cooked and spiced in certain ways, elucidated from specific perspectives.
have a broader or more flexible palette.
The same is also true in Japan; not everyone who writes haiku writes in
style. One can join haiku circles of every stripe. When it comes to judging
important competitions, there’s generally a broad representation of
judges. Tohta Kaneko (a gendai haijin and literary luminary) for instance,
often appears as a critic or judge in a variety of haiku-society formats.
So I would like to avoid altogether the issue of which haiku style is better,
more pure, preferred—it’s mostly a matter of taste and perception.
It comes down to “what is haiku”: not as definition, as some
would have it; any “hard” definition that would cover every
style becomes basically insensible when carefully analyzed. Gendai haiku
have great breadth and have had a remarkable evolution. Perhaps wisely,
there is no exact definition of haiku given in Japanese dictionaries.
What does gendai haiku, east or west, have to offer? The ways modern reality
can be uniquely spoken in haiku.
RW: While attending the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado, you said
you hung out with Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, Gregory Corso, Peter Orlovsky,
and other Beat poets who have had a major impact on American poetry. They,
of course, are a lot older than you. Ginsberg has since passed away. (I
too met and corresponded with him, by the way.) How did they, as elder
statesmen, influence your concept of haiku and poetic expression?
RG: Naropa Institute,
now Naropa University, was a fantastic place for an alienated poet. My
with Naropa, as undergrad, grad student
later, event coordinator, grant writer, general factotum and uninvited
guest, lasted a decade (1980-1990). During that time the school changed
unaccredited hole-in-the-wall walkup on the Pearl Street Mall into a substantial,
accredited, endowed institution. In December 1980 I arrived in Boulder
from Danbury, Connecticut, sleeping in my ‘69 Dodge panel van, all worldly
possessions within; mostly a tiny dresser and typewriter. Slept in the IHOP
parking lot. In the previous two years I’d been rebuilding engines,
and managing a steam-generation component-assembly division, in order to
save for the school tuition. With a friend, had started “The Plant,” an
alternative community to the isolated social hell of Danbury. Our group
created a café society, producing several local arts festivals
Just prior to settling
in, I’d wondered if there would be attempted
cult brainwashings, but to my surprise in the ensuing months I could hardly
get anyone on the Naropa staff to talk about Buddhism, much less the odd-looking
Tibetan gentleman glimpsed smiling or glowering from small desktop photographs.
Instead, I was quickly caught up in a marvelous, spontaneous cultural experiment,
not particularly florid in terms of drugs and booze (though Boulder was
no desert), blooming with arts collaboration. There were plenty more dancers
than poets in our student body of approximately 120 (including part-timers),
so I got involved in dance, music performance and production. I’d
come to Naropa to learn from those who had become successful poets, rather
than studying with teachers who just talked about poetry—analyzed—and
my expectations were not just exceeded—events went far beyond anything
I could have imagined.
that happened related to Naropa has affected my “concept
of haiku and poetic expression,” which is, basically,
life. One of the great gifts of Naropa was the lack of social
barriers between teachers
and students. Many of us were older students; I arrived,
still BA-less at age 26. There was an emphasis on perception,
direct examination and emanation
of mind and the moment; teachers taught whatever they wished
in whatever way they wanted. To mention a few examples,
Larry Fagin read from his work
journals, Anselm Hollo taught the Objectivists, Patricia
Donegan taught East Asian poetry (and notably, haiku), Alan
taught Blake. Gary Snyder avoided
Naropa for some years, but began visiting summers to read
and teach Beat history, the environment, and relations between
poetry and Zen. A multitude
of soirees, performances, parties, political actions—all
sorts of events. Summers were filled with symposia: international
students and teachers
arrived from all corners. I was lucky enough to explore
many new forms of therapy which involved energy, somatic
focus and the arts—Lomiwork
being a high point (with gratitude to Melissa Soalt, Christine
Caldwell and Paul Ortel). A high point was the 1985 Jack
Kerouac conference, in which
most of the still-living Beats met together, many for the
last time. Tim Leary was present, Burroughs, Paul Krasner,
McClure and a number of others,
along with the Naropa crew. I may be guilty of waxing romantic,
a lot of unknown history and achievement connected with
Naropa worth acknowledging. For those interested in research,
the Naropa library has a unique and
sizable archive of audio and video from the 70s on.
You have to be a bit
loony to enter “The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied
Poetics,” [http://www.naropa.edu/writingandpoetics/index.html] the
moniker Alan gave to our Department. It’s difficult to describe the
influence of a disembodied poetics, but it was Kerouac’s spirit that
had created the context for the teachers and students and classes existing
together, allowing space for the essential paradox of a 1200 year-old Tibetan
Buddhist religious tradition intersecting with a bunch of autonomous and
irascible American artists. The Beat spirit was perhaps vapor, but the Beats
themselves were largely present in embodied form. As such, influence was
direct, personal and idiosyncratic. I learned for instance how Greg Corso
approached and taught poetry, and how he read (brilliantly); drank together
and such. Did an internship with Alan, transcribing sections of his journals,
so I got to know him. In exchange, he read and commented on my poems. Professional
poets and artists are busy enough without teaching, and Naropa didn’t
pay much, so we were all busy, crossing paths and hanging out in various
contexts over the years. It wasn’t exactly chummy, yet we were in
a small community in this trendy hick town, so there was a tight container
and plenty of intensity.
of the Beat tradition and American poetic tradition on the
whole never quite
settled out of
a somewhat confused stew for me during
my time at Naropa—maybe the question wasn’t uppermost
minds. I would have wished for stronger academics (which now
exist I'm told). Sitting six students in a circle: Peter Orlovsky’s
class. We start breaking down the word “white” into
phonemic sounds, chanting, whispering “wh-“ “wh-“ “wh-“ “wh-“ “wh-“ “wh-“,
until it’s no longer a word-part, just strange freaky
energy, a few go on to the “”i-” “i-”,
we get louder, softer. The energy locked into words. What is
language? I recently performed this
word/sound experiment with a college class here in Japan, as
part of a “Nature
Writing in American Literature” class. Bill Douglas teaching “Bebop
Etudes” (musical poems) exploring polyrhythmic syncopation,
left hand beating 3 against 4 with the right. I got into meditation
and became a Buddhist.
So, many personal encounters and phenomenal experiences, leaving
me quite changed. I’m not sure that my concept of poetry
altered greatly from studying with Naropa poets but it expanded
into real living beings who offered
unique discoveries—I particularly want to mention Pat
love of haiku, patient critical comment on student haiku, personal
mentorship and friendship, and her own publication of "Hot
Haiku," now a
treasured text. Discovery wasn’t just of knowledge per
se, but the passion, life and interest of those presenting it.
Sixteen of us entered
the Poetics BA in January 1981, resulting in two graduates,
myself and Gary Allen, now a poet and teacher. I've often wondered
to the 14 classmates who flew on. At the time the school existed
in a state
of great social flux, and something of the living Beat tradition
was passed on in this context. How not?
Your life has been a "wild toad ride." You've studied
Asian poetry with an emphasis on haiku, psychology, Buddhism,
music, diving .
. . worked as a psychologist, built guitars, played in a band,
produced and directed television programs, and currently work
as a professor at
the Faculty of Letters at Kumamoto University in Japan. And somehow
to mediate and write haiku and haiku related research papers.
How does this zeal for life shape your haiku and haiku spirit?
RG: Maybe haiku and
haiku spirit have shaped my life, rather than the other way round. I’d like to answer your question by discussing haiku and
sacred space, since both define my supposed career.
What is poetry, why do we need it, what does poetry do—to us, for
us? In The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property, Lewis Hyde
affirms a sense that the poem, indeed all art, is fundamentally created
as an offering. Our culture commodifies artworks, a rather aberrant activity,
apparently, when viewed from the broad perspective of global art history.
Hyde reminds the reader of a truth concerning artwork—the desire to
offer a gift, not only to humanity but to the cosmos, the sky, sun, moon,
animals, plants, universe, to the moment, to history, one’s ancestors,
to the invisible. To offer in a sacred way. Mircea Eliade discusses another
aspect of offering in The Myth of the Eternal Return, the means for constructing
sacred space, and of enacting life within that space (and timeless time)
of the sacred. Experientially investigating the absence and presence of
the sacred has been a high value in my life, and also a “saunter”:
a sense of being sans terre, without Earth, which has involved a meandering
desire for holiness (cf. Thoreau’s essay “Walking”), a
goal echoed in the last stanza of Goethe’s “The Holy Longing”:
And so long as you
This: to die and so to grow,
You are only a troubled guest
On the dark earth.
of my research has concerned oblivion: the figure of Lethe
(personification of Oblivion), mother of the Graces. Why
might Forgetting give rise to Splendor, Delight
the three Graces? Heidegger writes,
The oldest of the old follows behind
us in our thinking and yet it
comes to meet us.
That is why thinking holds to the
coming of what has been, and
As Poet," Poetry, Language, Thought,
Harper & Row,
1971, p. 10)
To remember that thinking
is remembrance . . . It seems the sacred is easily forgotten, and entering
again, in the encounter is a sense of remembrance,
return of “the oldest of the old.” I’ve been interested in
why not only the sense of poetry but the experience of poetic dwelling becomes
lost. The danger inherent in a world, in any society, which loses poetic dimension
and thereby becomes overtly literalistic is a danger perhaps greater than that
of terrorism, perhaps a contributing cause. To know or feel the sense of poetry
in life is to know “the coming of what has been,” to desire remembrance:
to re-member the world, cosmos, oneself, a leaf, a tree. It may be that a necessary
means of entering the zone of the sacred is the experience of oblivion.
Haiku are not always instantly irruptive, do not always enact a sudden
shift, yet they seem to draw us into a new resonance, creating a sense of
Hoshinaga Fumio's haiku,
nigemizu e sengo no chichi wo oitsumeru
toward the mirage
the postwar fathers
chasing after . . .
(Kumaso-Ha, Honami Shoten, 2003)
is a haiku which seems
to have layers (allusive adumbrations) of mirage: of image, time and space – Escherlike
heads curling round tails. It's a haiku I work into, never quite out of.
There’s an unfolding, sensed as lament which
echoes back through millennia, through a myriad of cultures. I recall this
haiku by Dimitar Anakiev.
spring evening -
the wheel of a troop carrier
crushes a lizard
(Knots: The Anthology of Southeastern European Haiku Poetry,
Red Moon Press, 1999)
Its main image is violent, shocking. But this haiku is not merely violent.
is also a sense of sacredness. The context
or field of
reality is only partly given by the poem; the haiku requires rapprochement
on the reader’s part. That is, the genre itself indicates the boundary
lines of the sacred, and it is within the landscapes of the sacred, oriented
genre as a whole, in which image and action occur.
and image elements largely contribute to a haiku’s
effect, but these elements alone aren’t enough. If one reads the above
poems quickly without a pause they lose much of their drama and vividness. So,
what happens when we slow down, allow this unique poetic form to come to life?
I would argue that in some measure we experience oblivion(s), if for instants,
and through such psychological moments, remembrance. Mnemosyne, anamnesis, Lethe’s
sister, is mother to the Muses. Such may be said for any art one becomes absorbed
in and passionate toward; nonetheless, haiku are quite uncompromising in the
way they cut into reality. There is extreme and concise rupture.
To my knowledge, the
phenomenology of poetic process has not been explained by science. In
conscious experience itself has not yet
elucidated—there is so much we experience and feel which remains immeasurable.
Without being able to precisely measure or define, it is nevertheless apparent
that haiku becomes a genre due to demonstrably unique modes of poetic encounter
and dwelling. I should say that what is truly unique isn’t the experience
itself, but its prevalence and intensity, when compared with other poetic and
We may tend to devalue
the significance and importance of poetic movements which open us to the
sacred, to remembrance,
because of their immateriality;
with the predominant materialist cultural ethos. I know I have, and it’s
one reason for my returning to the wellspring of haiku. The haiku genre (which
includes a reader) constructs an environment within which its language (i.e.
symbolic representation) uniquely occurs. It may be a zest for life that draws
me to haiku, but likewise a zest for oblivion and erasure. Not necessarily
erasure in itself so much as what happens through it.
Some years ago, Barbara
Dilley (Merce Cunningham dancer, Naropa Dance Program Director and former
introduced me to “square work,” in
which a length of bright red yarn is made into a large square on the dance floor,
tacked down with a few bits of masking tape. What is within the square is defined
as sacred space. Dancers (people) relate to the fact of the square, and to entering
and exiting that space. It’s quite difficult to remain conscious as one
steps across the boundary. A gap in consciousness occurs right at the apotheosis
of transition. This is one of the consciousness research-questions we explored
in an embodied manner as dance. There’s nothing much to taking some twine
and making a square on a patch of bare ground. The square has only as much
meaning and significance as is intended by the participants, and what grows
of many crossings and movements (object and human arrangements) within and
without. After the dancers have gone, seeing that red twine on a darkened stage,
an aura exist? Is there a magical quality to that bare ground, so carefully
demarcated? I would say, yes, to a sensitive reader there is, because there
is an intentional
architecture, much like a temple or church, just much more minimalist. Haiku
likewise possess an intentional architecture; hence natively embody natural
and nuministic aspects of being.
I watch Sumo on television; the dohyo, or fighting square, is
a sacred space.
climb the steps and enter the outer-square area throwing
salt, an act of
purification, as they step across the sacred rope boundary embedded
within the clay ground, into the inner ring. Above, a temple roof
hangs suspended, emblemizing
the divine. Such an arrangement of objects in space is an example
of an archetypal sacred architecture, explored in Eliade’s
works. The sense of sacred space existing or inhabiting cultural
constructions is no doubt a deeply archaic if
not intrinsic aspect of the human spirit. Haiku as poems are a bit
like that length of red twine, though the boundaries and evidences
of sacrality may appear
more subtly. An objectively intentional aspect exists, not necessarily
in the poem itself, but in the fact that sacred space inhabits
the poem, the genre,
out of which the poem presents new ideas of reality. Isn’t
this what is implied by the term “poetic tradition.” The
oldest of the old follows behind us in our thinking and yet it comes
to meet us.
mirai yori taki o fukiwaru kaze kitaru
From the future
a wind arrives
that blows the waterfall apart
A Future Waterfall, Red Moon Press, 2nd ed., 2004)
In that art is an offering
to the cosmos, the reader is returned by that offering to a cosmic sense
or scene. Returned to the world purified and
renewed by the “first” moment,
the moment before creation.
Rising from the sea
shedding the tank it’s surprising to be distant from
fish, feeling weightless in the strangeness of air. What was that dreamlike
place, filled with unblinking creatures, turtles with flippers, sharks
to blot out a far-off sun? The twine like sunlight is imaginal, extending along
an invisible line between land and sea. Returning, vivid instants of memory
quickly fade as a drop of ocean coheres within, adamantine. It is for
that one drop so
pure and crystalline that haiku seem to speak.
RW: You stated in your
paper, The Disjunctive Butterfly, "In virtually every
aspect of haiku (form, metrics, content, kireji, kigo, etc.) the Japanese genre
from Bashō onward
reveals complexity and creative experiment, marked by a diversity
of schools and sensibilities. One school or style cannot definitively
be said to be more "proper" than another." Care to
RG: Bashō articulated the concept of fueki ryūkō:
“eternal truth – trend,
which has been translated
as ‘immutable mutability.’ This
paradoxical concept indicates that while there may be eternal verities, one
moment is not
the same as another, and one time or era is not the same as another; there
is progression. So in order to properly articulate truth, one necessarily inhabits
the zeitgeist. If “fashion” were not significant, we could
simply curl up with Bashō forever and never need compose another poem.
That sort of
idea seems decidedly contrary to his radical spirit. In each era there
are new developments or unique articulations, and these also serve to inform
RW: In a book review
you wrote about Ban’ya Natsuishi's book A Future Waterfall:
100 Haiku from the Japanese, you state: "Throughout the past century, Japanese
haiku culture has undergone a kind of reverse-mirror process to that in the West:
a national, classical poetic form has been reformed, abandoned, rediscovered,
and extended numerous times, as poets brought together their classical tradition
with modernity." Why is this so?
RG: Yes, this is what I was discussing above, how gendai haiku in Japan
have encountered and met numerous challenges of modern art and historical
over the last 12 decades.
RW: You say "Haiku comes from the Earth." Please
RG: This is a topic I hope to pursue at length in the future. Here are
some speculations and two poetic excerpts, as partial explanation. Do you
often contemplate the questions “what is poetry,” and, “what
is haiku”? What is it about haiku that create their distinct taste? And,
what do we mean by the Earth? As you approach the question, what do you think
of first—and last? I just thought of sneakers, dreams and the smell of
a skunk at night, visualizing its longitudinal white stripe running down a black
back. What I’m reporting to you is subjective and phenomenological—I’m
relating personal experience. We participate in the shared images I just offered,
through language. A smell, a dream, an object—to what extent are these
symbols—that sneaker (a bit dirty, untied, white and just inside a front
door) has been somewhere, is representative of feet, persons on the move—childhood,
perhaps, a sport. Every sneaker tells a story. But it’s also just what
it is—an image. Its existence is psychological in the original meaning
of the term: a logos of psyche, an aspect of the soul’s knowing, or depth.
When we slow down and contemplate any image we begin to unfold and the world
deepens—the world comes to us. This is a rather poetic statement, but if
you’ll permit me, the sneaker you image and mine are different, with the
qualitative differences impossible to sort out. My moon is not your moon and our moons are shared. Like the image, the poem is never singular. The image is
diverse—as diverse as our communal human experiences of that image, and
perhaps more. Any image in a poem has valence, varying with each reader. In pausing,
contemplating, images take on “life” as we give them time, space,
and attention; we attend to them, attend to their life, how they live, experience
the nature of that life. By ‘image’ I don’t mean merely something
visual: I’m largely following James Hillman’s view of images here
(cf. Archetypal Psychology: A Brief Account).
once said that it is not psyche which exists within man,
but man who exists within psyche.
It’s still a radical idea, that the world is soul. This
idea is expressed in the ancient idea of Anima Mundi, the world soul.
Poetry may have an enormous number of features, “mean” and
act upon us in diverse ways, but for me its primary function
is ensouling. I am nurtured, nourished
and revivified by poetry. From this fact, I can acknowledge a phenomenological
loss of soul, and a desire for learning—a desire to learn what
soul has to teach: the way images bring life and depth, and through
these, shared community.
Also as good poetry is an adventure, curiosity cannot be discounted.
Haiku encounter and create “image complexes in time,” to
paraphrase Pound, in unique ways; they speak the world uniquely.
While it may finally be impossible to define
this uniqueness, it seems worth trying, if only for the journey.
Haiku travel, they have velocity. Haiku instigate journeys—which
continue, opening out—haiku
are celebratory! There are many features to haiku: lightness, fragmentariness,
concision, brevity, humor, disjunction, paradox, etc. Yet the relation
between haiku and Earth seems particularly relevant. The two Walllace
Stevens texts below
(Opus Posthumous, pp. 88 and 115) point to approaches to haiku in
relation to the Earth—realities:
THIS AS INCLUDING THAT
It is true that you live on this rock
And in it. It is wholly you.
It is true that there are thoughts
That move in the air as large as air,
That are almost not our own, but thoughts
To which we are related,
In an association like yours
With the rock and mine with you.
In a secrecy of words
Opened out within a secrecy of place,
Not having to do with love.
A land would hold her in its arms that day
Or something like a land.
The circle would no longer be broken but closed.
The miles of its distance away
From everything would end. It would all meet.
RW: What one event or individual has had the greatest influence on you
as a poet?
RG: Thank you, Abigail. Why did you leave, why did you never call?
RW: Haiku: To kigo or not to kigo?
RG: Do kigo exist in
English? Or do you mean “season words,” “seasonal
reference,” “seasonal theme”? Looking at what kigo are
in Japanese haiku, it seems unfortunate that we use the Japanese word
for something which is actually a different kettle of fish in our own
That being said, there seem to be two underlying issues. The first has
to do with the traditional sense of Japanese haiku, which have kigo, developed
from the hokku, and going back to renga, waka, and Chinese antecedents.
The second issue has to do with nature. I would like to refer you to Hoshinaga
Fumio’s comments [http://www.iyume.com/research/hoshinaga/interview2004.html]
regarding kigo. He addresses certain language and cultural issues between
Japan/non-Japanese haiku. Hoshinaga comes to kigo after discussing his
means of composing haiku as “touch[ing] upon human heart and feeling
by creating human mental images.” And earlier in the interview he
states, "I do not believe the truth that the sea is blue. That I believe
blue: an encompassing state of affairs that limits as blue, via the comprehension
of my eyes: I believe only that."
I’m in sympathy with Hoshinaga’s perspective, which impinges
on the use of kigo and seasonal reference, in that the sense of nature is
irrupted out of realism. Hoshinaga concurs with the idea that, “You
feel kigo through your heart (inner sense), not through seeing, touching,
and so on.” His is a perspective that avoids the psychic poverty
and bad poetry involved in literalism.
For me, the pith arrives
in Hoshinaga’s statement that,
"The Japanese sense of nature is in harmony, or the harmony of — person
(human being) and nature [— no separation —] in its widest
sense. Without the sense of harmony with nature, Japanese literature would
very weak. So to write about nature—from that position— embodies
traditional haiku, and my position is the same."
Harmony as ‘no separation,’ in its widest sense, between man
and nature. So, I would say that kigo or seasonal reference can create a
sense of environment in haiku, which has been part of the traditional context,
and is part of the modern as well. Yet it remains an open question as to
what ‘environment’ pertains to. The question “what is
nature” is likewise a poetic challenge. Hoshinaga also states, “sometimes
you have to write naked.”
generally have a literary and evocative power in Japanese
that does not exist in English—and can be highly idiosyncratic.
Who would have thought that “athlete’s foot” (mizumushi)
is found in kigo compendiums, or that the word “obscure” (oboro)
would be a spring kigo (as it implies dreamlike, foggy),
mist being a kigo phenomenon of spring.
There are now several
projects afoot to create official kigo bestiaries for English haiku. As
move forward it seems important that
modern Japanese literary history concerning the reasons why kigo have
been resisted, subverted and rejected is accounted for in our own kigo programs.
I’m not sure if we would want a haiku genre in which athlete’s
foot must equal summer, and a rule for haiku in which “athlete’s
foot” and “mist” cannot co-exist in the same haiku. After
all, it’s a formal rule of kigo that there can be only one in a
In English we are used
to a sense of freedom in terms of what can be allowed into haiku by topic
association—what sorts of relationships can
occur. Using kigo as they have been applied in Japan, many types of objects
and phenomena cannot co-exist. You’d have a lot of trouble getting
a magnolia into an autumn haiku. It happens that this year in Kumamoto we’ve
had unseasonably warm weather following two typhoons; consequently an ancient
cherry tree in Haksui Village has bloomed in October. But you can’t
mention this astounding occurrence in a haiku, unless it’s a gendai
haiku—you’d be breaking kigo rules. Kigo can create social bureaucratizations
of reality. In a haiku circle I belong to, I just received the message that
we are to write on two kigo for our next meeting: ‘snow in a blue
sky,’ and, ‘winter chill.’ Well, it barely snows in Kumamoto
city in a given year, and it’s also been unseasonably warm. How could
it have come to this, I wonder. It is difficult for us to entirely grasp
the reasons why Hoshinaga and many other modern haiku writers have come
to subvert kigo. I think we need to temper our kigo zeal, and not make the
destructive critical choices that have occurred in some Japanese literary
societies. I hope that consideration is given to the consequences of ordering
and dissecting phenomenal reality into vapid sugar-plum visions of seasonal
appropriateness. Our haiku thinking seems too often to be both restrictive
and parochial as it is; why step backwards into artifice? At the same time,
there is plenty of middle ground. I like Hoshinaga’s phrase “sense
of environment.” I think it’s a useful idea, though more definitive
in the Japanese context. As you know, I quoted Haruo Shirane’s expansive
definition of haiku in Disjunctive Dragonfly (in the unabridged version
the spirit of Bashō's own poetry . . . haiku in English is a short
poem, usually written in one to three lines, that seeks out new and revealing
perspectives on the human and physical condition, focusing on the immediate
physical world around us, particularly that of nature, and on the workings
of the human imagination, memory, literature and history. . . . this definition
is intended both to encourage an existing trend and to affirm new space
that goes beyond existing definitions of haiku (“Beyond the haiku
moment: Bashō, Buson, and modern haiku myths.” Modern Haiku, 31:1,
48-63. p. 60).
It’s a general definition, written in the modern spirit which allows
for a later discussion of technique and specific formal properties. One
can see that haiku are not being defined by any particular technique or
restriction on language use—kigo is not mentioned, nor is seasonal
reference. Rather haiku “is a short poem . . . that seeks out,” and
has a primary focus on, “the immediate physical world around us, particularly
that of nature” (rather than a definitional focus on season specifically),
and by conjunction extends to “the workings of the human imagination,
memory, literature and history.” It’s a definition befitting
the validation of haiku as a serious literary genre.
definition over and comparing it with the new Haiku Society of America
(HSA) definitions of haiku and related forms just published,
I think a great opportunity has been lost. Discussing the HSA definitions
will require another forum, but the quoted material below is relevant
to Shirane’s definition by way of contrast:
"Metaphors and similes [in haiku] in the simple sense of these terms do
sometimes occur, but not frequently. A discussion of what might be called “deep
metaphor” or symbolism in haiku is beyond the range of this definition
(HSA Newsletter, vol. XIX, 4, November 2004)."
This rather obtuse
if not tortured language seems problematic. I’d
like to offer the following 10 inquiries to the above two sentences.
1) There are haiku
existing which are “beyond the range” of the
definition of haiku being given. What kind of definition is
this really be a definition of “certain varieties of haiku” rather
2) What does “deep metaphor” mean?
It’s not a known literary term, so
3) what is it doing in a definition,
4) What exactly is the “simple sense” of
a metaphor or simile in poetry or literature? Since this is not illustrated,
5) why is it assumed that we would all agree with whatever that would
be for haiku (imagine how the reader unfamiliar with haiku might be confused
by the use of these terms)?
6) The idea that symbolism “is beyond
the range of this definition” as much implies that haiku are mainly
non-symbolic—though it’s known that a number of exemplary haiku,
classical and modern, utilize varieties of symbolism—is
quantity to be valued over quality? In any case,
7) haiku utilizing symbolism (whatever
that might be—it remains unclear) are “outside the range” (reach)
of a definition. How hard is it, really,
8) to include symbolism in haiku
within the range of a definition? The upshot is that,
which utilize any ‘out of range’ techniques are marginalized;
10) It seems that the HSA definition isn’t defining haiku at all,
it’s defining a restricted variety of haiku and leaving ‘out
of range,’ and hence out of visibility, varieties, features and qualities
of exemplary haiku which it hints at, or dismisses (with the term “beyond”).
The definition put
forth seems mainly that of what can be called a traditionalist
haiku in English. I am amazed that the various ideas put
forward in the last
few years regarding
haiku and the modern spirit both in America and Japan have been
almost completely ignored here—with the nods to “deep metaphor” and “beyond
the range” acting to mystify.
RW: The love for haiku and writing haiku has become a global affair, thanks
in part to the internet and other electronic media. Yet there is a diversity
of styles and teaching as to what haiku is and isn't. This has been confusing
at times. One school of thought teaches this, another school of thought
teaches that. Is there a common thread between these schools of thought?
RG: I think this question
is difficult to answer without looking at specifics. Briefly though, I
say that haiku is a global genre that exists as
a multitude of separate, autonomous literatures—I like your word, “affair.” We
can discuss the global genre, but the idea of a “global literature” seems
problematic, not least because of language issues—which leads to
your next question.
RW: A follow up question.
As the world becomes a closer-knit community via electronic access, will
there be a symbiosis of synergy and focus regarding
the understanding and composition of haiku?
RG: I think an energetic symbiosis has been occurring, to everyone’s
benefit. There are some political questions, for instance the problem (and
promise) inherent in the prevalence of English (or any one language) as
an international means of communication; and associated issues of cultural
ignorance and insensitivity. These issues or tensions wouldn’t exist,
however, without the ongoing act of sharing, publication and interactive
worldwide communication. Also, in that the haiku world is one of small publications,
it is exciting to find online sites such as your own developing where haiku
resources persist and are easily and instantly available and searchable.
As I mentioned above though, if we consider that global haiku is not literature
but “literatures,” we can expect diversity, idiosyncrasy,
hybridization rather than lowest-common-denominator similitude, because
haiku exist most
strongly in their particulars and uniqueness, rather than purely in their
universals. Tolmin, Slovenia is not yet L.A., thank god, and Kumamoto
is definitely not Tokyo.
RW: One final question.
What is the biggest fallacy propagated today in regards to the writing
and understanding of haiku?
RG: Well, I’m very
much a student of haiku and particularly living in Japan, ever the neophyte,
I hope that my own fallacies will be amended over time, and don’t
want to put myself in the position of the expert haiku knower. My writing
for this interview has been speculative and extemporaneous—you’ve
given me a platform and context I don’t normally have, and I thank
you for the opportunity.
In terms of fallacies,
there are various levels of fallacy. I am saddened by the new HSA definitions,
as you’ve gathered. I feel they promote
and maintain limited views of haiku which have plagued the critical theory
in English for decades. Probably though, the most tragic fallacy is one
which hasn’t been promoted by the main haiku community for some
years, that English haiku are composed of 5-7-5 English syllables.
In general, strict
haiku definitions seem problematic for the reason that such definitions
lead to fallacies
of restrictive validation, with the
result that the genre can’t be taken seriously, in terms of how it critically
defines itself. I mean, the great poems contradict the definitions! In both
cases the fallacy is one of an imagined purity (of form, style, etc.) that
ends up being reductive and short-sighted in terms of how it treats both
the genre and poets. I think this sort of fallacy is about done, because
many are interested in moving beyond an imagined “pure” traditionalism.
In saying this, I hope my appreciation for Bashō, for instance, is evident.
I contemplate his work on a daily basis. However, in many ways, modern works
are tremendously exciting and inspiring—fresh and alive. The biggest
fallacy we have may be that the best haiku arrive from the past. Likely,
haiku come to meet us from the future, as remembrance.
Gilbert rebuilt his first car and motorcycle (a Honda
750) at age 17 listening to Frank Zappa, Bert Jansch, Morton
Ravel, delta blues, 50s-60s
jazz, and WPKN (Bridgeport, CT). Majored in math/computer science
and music at a nameless Connecticut university, worked in the
industry and as an engine rebuilder for some time, transferred
to Naropa University (Boulder), where he studied and hung out
with beat poets Allen
Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Peter Orlovsky, Gary Snyder, etc.;
composed sonic ur-scapes, became a Tibetan Buddhist meditator.
Performed in and produced
conceptual art multi-disciplinary presentations as poet, videographer,
electric guitarist; undergraduate thesis on Japanese classical
haiku, received a BA in Poetics and Expressive Arts. Went to
a Buddhist seminary
in 1984, and returned to Naropa for an MA in Contemplative Psychology.
Into the early 90s, he was a clinical adult outpatient psychotherapist,
at Boulder Community Mental Health Center. In 1988 he entered
The Union Institute doctoral program, received a Ph.D. in Poetics
and Depth Psychology
in 1990, took an important trip to Chaco Canyon resulting in
the performance poem Big Bird & the Great North Road, set
to music by composer/session-guitarist John March, which received
airplay around Los Angeles and Denver; became
a divemaster in 1991 and nearly moved to the islands; instead,
a garage in LA: rebuilt a wrecked 1981 BMW R100RS, playing
mostly acoustic guitar
and listening to KCRW and KPFK, while working in post-production
audio, sleepless in tiny, dark soundproofed rooms strewn with
old pizza. After
some month-long meditation retreats, returned to Denver and
worked in Community Television as a director/producer. Five
years later, nearly
became a Buddhist monk, but moved to Japan in 1997, pursuing
a passion for Japanese haiku, research, translation, home and
for living above the
poverty line. Built a computer hard disk recording studio, which
powers music projects and ESL software development; has published
around 30 academic
papers and some poetry. He can be seen riding around Kumamoto
on a 2003 Suzuki SV1000S (a 1000cc twin), when not in
his office at the Faculty of Letters, Kumamoto University.
Hopes to ride Yakushima and the Okinawan out-islands later
2005: Simply Haiku