A Hundred Gourds 4:3 June 2015

current issue : haiku : tanka : haiga : haibun : renku : expositions : feature : submissions : editors : search : archives

page 5   

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

by Charles Trumbull

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

This style of haiku is not new, and in fact it has been around from the very beginning. Witness:

never think of yourself
as someone who did not count —
festival of the souls
Bashō, trans. Makoto Ueda

Don’t worry, spiders,
I keep house
Issa, trans. Robert Hass

drifting into the room,
the milkweed seed distracts me
as when i was young
Bob Spiess, American Haiku 2:1 (1964)

our want
to finger light
Raymond Roseliep, Frogpond 4:3 (1981)

longing for love —
I place a single strawberry
in my mouth
Suzuki Masajo, Love Haiku, trans. Lee Gurga and Emiko Miyashita (2000)

Not only is this kind of haiku not new, it’s certainly not restricted to English, or Japanese-language haiku either. Haiku in Continental Europe too has always been more lyrical and “poetic” than that in America, where haikuists first adhered as closely as they could to classic Japanese models. It is very easy to find examples among the European poets, especially those in the Balkans—such as Alenka Zorman’s haiku that we read before.

This popular kind of haiku that I am struggling to define represents, in many ways, transition, hybridization, or fusion. It assumes that certain abstractions can be considered as images. For example, in Mike Rehling’s haiku:
spring melt
all my regrets
pulled out to sea
Mike Rehling, A Hundred Gourds 2:4 (September 2013)

“regrets” could be considered an image, though certainly not a concrete one. Terri French shows how a question, like a negative, can change what might have been a solid, if not concrete, image into an abstraction. Whom is the poet addressing?
tadpoles swimming
in a Mason jar—
when will you change?
Terri L. French, DailyHaiku, Nov. 24, 2010

Likewise, Sondra Byrnes’s question poem, which was published in Terri’s senryu journal Prune Juice, is also of the ilk that I’m interested in:
eating alone—can they see my hunger
Sondra J. Byrnes, Prune Juice11 (2013)

Our minds have to jump well beyond the words to understand who the “they” are. Like Terri has done in her haiku, Jeff Winke shows how adverbial constructions such as “when,” “how,” and “so much” are doorways to the abstract:
holding hands
so much said
in the silence
Jeff Winke, Wanda Cook, Larry Kimmel, and Jeff Winke, One Thing Leads to Another (2012)

David McKee’s:
All Souls Day
so many masks
left behind
David McKee, Modern Haiku 43:1 (winter–spring 2012)

uses such a construction too —“so many”— and makes use of double meaning for “masks,” which here are both the physical Halloween masks as well as a reference to abstraction of people hiding their true identities by psychological masks. Mike Montreuil achieves a similar effect in his haiku, giving a duality of meaning to “cloud”:
blue sky—
not a cloud
to hide my thoughts
Mike Montreuil, Notes from the Gean (2010)

No one will have difficulty in objectively correlating the concrete and abstract images, “muffins” and “words,” in this haiku of Randy Brooks’s:
warm muffins
the words I find to keep her
in bed a little longer
Randy Brooks, Frogpond 36:1 (winter 2013)

So, I would suggest we have a continuum of haiku styles, ranging from classical Japanese- and English-language haiku with two more or less concrete images; haiku that have double meanings for one of the constituent images, one concrete and one non-concrete meaning; haiku with one concrete image and one personal or emotional statement as is the practice in tanka—the focus of my attention this afternoon; and then a kind of haiku that abandons any distinction between concrete and abstract—or perhaps jettisons a clear notion of image altogether.

These days, everyone seems to want to name a new variety of haiku—Richard Gilbert with his “H21” haiku, which sounds like something that the Center for Disease Control might be trying to contain, and Jim Kacian with his “monoku,” which might be the kind of poems college students who have come down with the kissing disease might write—so I feel compelled to do so as well. My first thought was to capture the idea that these haiku are basically classical in nature but have been structurally modified in one essential way—so I was going to call them “genetically modified”—“GMO haiku.” I thought again, however, and decided that just “hybrid haiku” would do.

bio photo
Dr. Charles Trumbull grew up in Las Vegas, N.M., attended Yale and Notre Dame Universities, and is retired from editing and publishing positions at the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and Encyclopædia Britannica. A past president of the Haiku Society of America and recipient of its Sora Award for service to the HSA, from 2006 to 2013 he was editor of the journal Modern Haiku, the oldest haiku journal outside Japan. In 2013–14 he was Honorary Curator of the American Haiku Archives at the California State Library, and he served as secretary of the New Mexico State Poetry Society in 2013. A haiku chapbook, Between the Chimes, was published in 2011 and his book of New Mexico haiku, A Five-Balloon Morning, in June 2013 (winner of the Touchstone Book Award of The Haiku Foundation). Trumbull has pursued his interest in haiku by organizing haiku study groups in Chicago and arranging international conferences at Northwestern University (Haiku North America—1999) and in Kraków, Poland (2003—a second one planned for May 2015). In November 2011 he made a solo driving trip through eleven countries in the Balkans, giving readings, addressing specialists at Boğaziçi University in Istanbul, and meeting with haiku poets and groups. In September 2014 he made a similar trip to Japan, addressing the Modern Haiku Association in Tokyo and the Hailstone Haiku Group in Kyoto, and conferring with scholars at the Museum of Haiku Literature in Tokyo and the Shiki Kinen Museum in Matsuyama, among other activities.