Friday, December 3, 2010

Haiku: a Review

It's time in this blog, to revisit my views and understanding of haiku.

Back among the first entries, I took exception to what a fellow poet called haiku. At a reading in the autumn of 2008, Brian Bartlett presented poems he referred to as haiku; personally I could not connect and stated that for me these were not “haiku” and gave my reasons. Recently Brian discussed his haiku on his facebook page and I made some response. The exchange led me to review, to revisit my understanding of haiku.

And that's always a good thing. Blindly holding onto your views simply because they are the ones you've always held stunts facets of your personal development. You are not asked to change your beliefs; it is suggested that you examine them in newer light, under other circumstances, or bringing other knowledge into the equation. Granted, this sounds like a philosophical discussion reminiscent of Socrates and his pronunciation on the “unexamined life.” But it works, even in poetry.

So what did I gain from a review? Quite a bit, even though my basic thinking on haiku hasn't changed.

Brian hinted that for him haiku became an exercise in form and language, especially that five - seven - five “syllable” count nonsense. And here we agree. That form so dear to English-speaking teachers and dilettantes neither translates properly from the Japanese script nor does it suit the spirit of English-language haiku. Both Brian and I take exception, but in different ways. I reject the syllables, using the careful selection of words and their multiple connotations to carry the purpose of the poem. Brian, on the other hand, takes the form as such, changing it, worrying it, playing with it but always keeping that form in mind. He turns it, in a way, into a game.

And games have their purpose. Even some of the earlier Japanese masters used the form to make fun, to play word games, to entertain. And much as I prefer to see haiku as an expression of spirituality, as continuing realizations on the way to final enlightenment, I accept that one way toward enlightenment is laughter, through fun and games as well as word play.

So I have been pointed to a vision of haiku different from mine but no less valid. In the same way, somebody referring to the Christian Bible as “great literature” does not take anything away from the faith of believers.

I have learned a little more tolerance. I have learned not to take myself all too seriously. I have experienced a small “enlightenment,” my own little satori.

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