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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Words Are Words Attitudes Is Everything: Down With, Not Up In Arms

In our city there is a tired, if well fueled debate that has been going on the last year, at least, among poets.

At the face of it, the debate is on haiku: What is a real haiku? There are folks who get up in arms because they think they know the answer. To these, haiku are sacred. Not for the layman to toy with. Then there are folks who respond by saying the "problem", the question, is artifice. They want to enjoy in their own fashion clever, sweet, sad or funny short, three-lined poems. And they don’t mind if it is in theory, haiku or not.

At the true core, there are folks who really sucker on to the idea that there is some deep rift: academic vrsus…well they don’t say vrsus what.
It is the minority which sees the rift.

I don’t think it is anti-academic to sidle up with folks who accept a book of dog haiku or baseball haiku for what they are, clever mindshifts. Witty escapism. Something to read and muse on. Something fans of baseball and dogs can sink their teeth into without having to work. In short, diversion.

Short poems that fit on a post-it note can pack a whallop. They can be startling or funny or drive home some point. Whether they are haiku may be worth investigation, but there is even the problem of whether haiku can be written in English. There are Japanese syllables, and then there are English syllables, and they are dissimilar. Attitudes in the West and East are dissimilar. Seasons are, and traditions are. Some say there is no such thing as an English-written haiku. Others accept that despite the differences and gaps, there exist trusty enough guidelines, guidelines that are generally enough agreed upon in aged tomes, and which ought be obeyed. Yea, even revered.
It would really take a serious investment to attempt any true investigation.
So much so, that some believe it can only ever be opinion.


To constantly bring up the paranoid delusion that to enjoy a layman’s haiku is to loathe the academy is to bring to light one’s insecurity. Perhaps the bringers up of such subconsciously suffer, on account of their education. For example, a piano teacher I had told me he was unable to compose music anymore, having been a student and later a professor at a prestigious music academy. The man could play—world class improvisation. He knew his instrument and nuance. Soulful, driven and witty, he was able to converse with other instruments and move a song to new places, only to bring it back to its core and breath. But he could not sit with a pencil and compose. Everything he learned and taught about composition would muddy his waters—all of the rules and guidelines and standards wld interrupt his course of thought. He was paralyzed by his great knowledge of theory.

I think its possible that these pointing fingers (of some fundamentalist individuals) suggesting that another’s blasé attitude (on what is or is not a haiku) must stem from “hatred of the academy” are wholly fear-based.

People fear what they don’t know. Some people don’t know how to write a freestyle poem. Some people don’t know how to write a poem with the sole purpose of creating a rhythmic bed to lax and laze in. They wouldn’t be able to create a verse ambiguous. They don’t understand how to write from the gut.

Gut-writing delivers a succinct impact. What the gut delivers may be emotional, clever or, it may birth what is carefree. It can be in jest, an intellectual game, or a welcome distraction from the deadly serious rat race. It can be a culmination of various colors, sounds and syllables that (in congress) pack a whallop. Such poems can indeed be like instrumental songs--they create a tone. And only a tone. Some people can’t do this. They can't be carefree.

But, let’s take it out of the academy. Nobody has charged the academy with a crime. (Well, there was name-calling, i.e. "Jazz Police"!) The only actual charges made have been against the blasé, or open-minded, carefree individuals who Take In in a stride, and are down with what pleases, not up in ARMS.

8 comments:

beverly said...

I like what you say about fear anger. Like when you almost get into a car accident, and then you get mad because you're scared. I don't know but I like alot fo haikus.

Jesus Crisis said...

Well said.

Interestingly, the captcha I have to type is to post this comment is "peerease."

Jesus Crisis said...

"Men and Their Boring Arguments"

One man on his own can be quite good fun
But don’t go drinking with two -
They’ll probably have an argument
And take no notice of you.

What makes men so tedious
Is the need to show off and compete.
They’ll bore you to death for hours and hours
Before they’ll admit defeat.

It often happens at dinner-parties
Where brother disputes with brother
And we can’t even talk among ourselves
Because we’re not next to each other.

Some men like to argue with women -
Don’t give them a chance to begin.
You won’t be allowed to change the subject
Until you have given in.

A man with the bit between his teeth
Will keep you up half the night
And the only way to get some sleep
Is to say, ‘I expect you’re right.’

I expect you’re right, my dearest love.
I expect you’re right, my friend.
These boring arguments make no difference
To anything in the end

-Wendy Cope

lady said...

Correcting the corrector for the crime of correcting

That's also crime in my mind

First I thought Aristotle was a policeman

Then I thought *I* was the Jazz Policeman in the playground of improv

You look at the tile one way, and it projects outward. You look at it another way, it pops back in

They say Zen is a con game designed to stifle inquiry, Ouroboros

the end

(my 'word verification' captcha is 'subtli' -> proof of universal mind?)

Pressin On said...

ha i get some cool word verifications too. karmic, perhaps. or random...
the one right here: inablyp

all one word, in a blyp

Geoffrey A. Landis said...

Well, since it was my comment that a particular poem was a senryu and not a haiku that stimulated the original discussion (this time), I suppose that I should comment here. (although Joshua commented on "what's a haiku" in far more detail six months ago.)

I found the discussion a little disappointing; although there were some insightful asides, the overall argument was basically "haiku, senryu, limerick, no difference, who cares?"

I will submit, however, that there is a joy in using words precisely; that in a poem about (say) the birds singing outside my window this morning, it does make a difference whether they are swifts or finches.

More than that, however, words are a tool we use for vision. If you don't have words, you can't really see the difference between a finch and a swallow; you don't really have the tool see the bird clearly. Using the word "haiku" to mean "any short three-line poem" and saying "senryu, yeah, same thing" ends up devaluing, even erasing the senryu, which is, actually, a form that I personally like. If you don't know or care what a senryu is, you can't really appreciate one if you read it. Something valuable has been lost.

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(CAPTTCHA word for me is "unsivegu". Definition: sivegu, a Japanese form of poetry using a 5-7-5 syllable count, on the subject of giant monsters (daikuju). Must include a flower reference in the second or third line. Unsivegu, a form of poetry which is in any meter other than 5-7-5 syllables, and contains no mention of giant monsters in any fashion. Flower references are optional.)

Jesus Crisis said...

I pretty much agree with what you're saying, Geoff. I guess in the "debate" that got carried away I had a few objectives.

1) to defend a poet who (even tho I didn't for a moment think the poem in question was a textbook haiku - or the "most" anything) I felt was being dismissed and belittled. I found some of the comments directed toward that poet (Ben Rader's and some of yours in particular) were quite instructive and generously given. I entered the fray when I sensed mean-spiritedness creeping in (I don't mean from you).

2) I found it a bit fun to play the devil's advocate - perhaps, in hindsight, a bit too fun - although when the fun subsided and I began to feel myself creeping toward mean-spiritedness, I decided to withdraw. Football can be fun if you give yourself to it - at least til someone gets injured - but in many ways it's the antithesis of civility and poetry.

3) I wanted to express my honest belief that in the ultimate, universal sense nothing we do or say means anything. So I wasn't merely playing devil's advocate - I believed what I said was true, from the most objective perspective. But I didn't fully admit that from a terestrial, more human perspective, I also believe words and their meanings very much matter. I think the rules created by past generations often inhibit creativity - though I heartily believe they are useful, and sometimes too little discipline can be as harmful to poetry as too much.

Thank you all for a lively, instructive discussion. It has been a learning/growing experince for me in more than one way. I still believe all I said is true in various senses - but I believe much of what everyone else said is true as well. Ah, blessed paradox!

pottygok said...

Whoo-boy. It looks like I missed some major debating!

Some thoughts, which may or may not be appropriate.

1)"Then there are folks who respond by saying the "problem", the question, is artifice. They want to enjoy in their own fashion clever, sweet, sad or funny short, three-lined poems. And they don’t mind if it is in theory, haiku or not."

Yes, this is true, and nobody is stopping these people from composing these poems. The issue, of course, comes when they insist that these poems are something they are not. "If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success. When affairs cannot be carried on to success, proprieties and music will not flourish." -Confucius

2) re: "I don’t think it is anti-academic to sidle up with folks who accept a book of dog haiku or baseball haiku for what they are,"

There is a difference between Marsh's "Dog-Ku" which, by his own admission, is "Not a very serious book." and Cor van den Heuvel's anthology "Baseball Haiku," which has actual haiku written in Japanese by Japanese poets next to haiku by some of the best Western writers of the form. There is a complete difference in attitude and approach to the two books, and the two really cannot be compared on any but the surface level.

3) Re " clever mindshifts. Witty escapism. Something to read and muse on. Something fans of baseball and dogs can sink their teeth into without having to work. In short, diversion."

Yes, but is this what we as poets want poetry to become, clever mindshifts and diversions?

4) Re:"It would really take a serious investment to attempt any true investigation. So much so, that some believe it can only ever be opinion."

But to not participate in that investigation, or to form an opinion without having even begun that investigation, or to assume that one knows something without investigating it would be ignorance. It might behove us to think of haiku in terms of "practice," not as a form to complete, but more as an idea to journey towards.

5) Re: "academic vrsus…well they don’t say vrsus what. It is the minority which sees the rift."

In my experience, on this blog as well as in my studies, academics (teachers, students, MFA Program graduates, etc.) tend to be as ignorant about haiku as non-academics. Unless the term "academic" is taken to it's broadest meaning--someone who studies something--those in the universities tend to be as ignorant, if not more so, than those outside of them.

Cited...

The poet doesn't invent. He listens. ~Jean Cocteau