A Hundred Gourds 4:3 June 2015

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Between Basho and Ban'ya (bypassing Barthes):
A New Brand of Haiku?

by Charles Trumbull

| Introduction | page 2 | page 3 |page 4 | page 5 |

Such American gendai or H21 experiments are not the kind of haiku I am struggling to focus on in this presentation. I want to concentrate on the body of haiku in English that is lodged between classical and gendai, haiku such as Francine Banwarth’s

all of the green fading
so long since
I’ve written a word
Francine Banwarth, Acorn 31 (fall 2013)

or Michael Nickels-Wisdom’s
raspberry paczki —
from one day to the next
this sinner’s heart
Michael Nickels-Wisdom, Per Diem Archive (The Haiku Foundation website), March 2013, “Judeo-Christian Traditions”

or Aubrie Cox’s
roadside violet
all the places
I’ve yet to go
Aubrie Cox, A New Resonance 8 (2013)

or Scott Glander’s
picket fence what i thought i knew
Scott Glander, Modern Haiku 44:2 (summer 2013)

These are not especially challenging either to Gilbert’s “reader-coherence” nor “genre-capacity and range,” whatever he might mean. What they do do is contain one concrete image (fading green color, paczki [Polish pastries], a violet, and a picket fence, respectively), then add mentation, feelings, or emotions— can we call them images?— including: “so long since I have written a word,” “this sinner’s heart,” “all the places I’ve yet to go,” and “what i thought i knew.” In each case notice how the concrete image is used as a springboard for the musing of the poet.

Bruce Ross looked at some of these kind of haiku in his investigation of what he called “absolute metaphor” in his essay “The Essence of Haiku” in Modern Haiku 38:3 (summer 2007). He applied the term “objective correlative” to haiku:

Here is a contemporary haiku by Alenka Zorman of Slovenia that manifests the absolute metaphor:
Independence Day.
In the warm wind my scarf
touches a stranger.

An existential quality is evident in the poem, which resonates with liberation, humanity, and joy. The holiday name demarcates a historical event of freedom that many countries celebrate. The wind is appropriately comfortable. This wind provides a natural example of what the American poet T. S. Eliot termed an objective correlative, a poetic image drawn from the real world that represents, or metaphorically connects with, internal emotion. In haiku the connection is usually less imaginatively constructed.

“Objective correlative” is getting close, but is not quite it.

In the online journal A Hundred Gourds (2:4, September 2013), Expositions Editor Matthew Paul reviewed Carolyn Hall’s The Doors All Unlocked. After examining Hall’s mastery of layout, synesthesia, the haiku–senryu spectrum, and other traditional aspects of haiku, Paul—perhaps the most perceptive and hard-hitting reviewer in the business—makes this statement:

Hall also has a tendency to write some haiku that are tanka-like, wherein a statement of mind or emotion, or an abstract noun or thought, is juxtaposed with (usually) an observation of nature.… Here are four such examples:

I let him
remember it his way—
spring gust

I don’t know
a soul at this picnic—

altered memories
birdsong tugging
at the sky

how to sate this hunger winter sky

I read this passage, then reread it. “Aha!” I shouted mentally, waking two drowsy cats in the process. “I believe he’s got it.”

“Tanka-like”—that’s it. Now, you probably know that I’m hardly a fan of tanka, one main reason being that tanka is supposed to include an emotional state or reaction to a more-or-less concrete image, which I generally dislike in any sort of poetry. To compose a tanka, in principle, one starts with a shasei-like sketch from nature as Marjorie Buettner has done:

these window plants
strain after more certain light
this snowfilled morning

then adds two more lines of interpretation that propels the essence of the tanka into the abstract:

while somewhere your soul hovers
still—as if in second thought
Marjorie Buettner, Simply Haiku 2:4
(July/August 2004)

Looking back over my examples of the new haiku, I think you’ll see that this is exactly what is happening: these haiku are really compressed tanka.

In the middle of Matthew Paul’s quote, the one just cited, he confesses his dislike of this kind of haiku:

In the English-language haiku ‘world’, it’s an increasingly widespread, and rather aggravating tendency, I find, since too often the different elements seem like they’ve been thrown together randomly to see what happens when the dust falls.

I’m not sure I totally agree with him here; I rather like most of these haiku and usually have no trouble accepting the substitution of an abstract image for a second concrete image, as long as I can work out the connection between them.