Sunday, November 2, 2008

More About Haiku

Last Thursday the Poetry Centre hosted a reading at Bryan Prince, Bookseller by the East Coast poet Bryan Bartlett which left me unsastisfied and more than a little dismayed by several matters in his presentation. I want to deal with one of those here.

He read selections from what he claimed were three "haiku series." Now a lot seemed to be missing, either from his way of presentation or his understanding of "haiku" and probably a combination of the two. It certainly left this part of the audience wondering.

Because I had (and have) no copy of his material in hand I cannot comment on form or format on the page; from the way it was read, there was no sense of line or thought breaks, no pause giving emphasis. I can only criticize according to my emotional response to the material presented. And that was nil.

But this is what haiku is. By presenting an image in its strength and clarity without extraneous baggage hanging on, the haiku poet demands visceral response from his audience/reader. He uses every word carefully, saying as much as possible through the associations each word carries. This Bartlett never did. I can remember not one clear image, not one emotional note he touched. All I remember from those three separate haiku sequences he purported to lay before us was the story that he had read once in Toronto with a nephew improvising guitar lines. (I did the same twenty years ago with a professional saxophonist; the resulting combination can be mesmerizing.) Whatever magic that might have held was not present here.

About magic: much of the strength of the best haiku lies in a sense of Zen Buddhism. its essence is the capture and transmission of the "haiku moment," as North American haiku poets would have it. What that comes down to is a small sense of enlightenment, a clearer understanding of a part of existence that may have seemed insignificant, a satori if you will. The Masters create this with their choice of image, by comparing or contrasting (which must happen in the mind of the reader/listener), by presenting a small series for consideration, all leading to that point where the mind/spirit says "Aha!" This was sadly lacking.

The only thing I came away with (pertaining only to his "haiku") was the memory of several polysyllabic words which seemed as relevant to haiku as my finger to the shape of this galaxy.

I suppose it is only fair to display some of my own, hoping that they may illustrate the principles I'm talking about.

across the ravine
a deer watches silently
as my feet stumble

such an expanse of water
and one lone windsurfer
November breeze

Simple images; seasonal reference to set mood; let the reader's mind do the work.

1 comment:

annaken said...

Hi Jeff,

I have never tried to write Haiku verse. I think it must be incredibly difficult to do.

Trevor Camp is very good at it as you are.