daylight fading shadows
stretching infant fingers
into their skins
I see a leaf fall from a tree, the last leaf on the tree I see. The woods I walked when I was a boy by Aunt Mae’s in the Berkshires–Housatonic River Valley tributaries webbing the terrain.
Haiku is a poem. Haiku are not poems. Haiku is singular. Haiku is plural–no it is not plural, we say, Haikus, don’t we? Haiku is determined by form; Haiku is determined by content. The form of a Japanese Haiku cannot be pedantically adhered to in English? This is true; this is false; the truth remains somewhere in the between; there is no between for this. Poetic mannerisms must be absent in all good Haiku. Mannerisms must be absent in all good poetry. What about invisible mannerisms? Can mannerisms be invisible? What does this mean? What could you say about Haiku that was not overly intellectual. The form is highly intellectual; the form is absent of all intellectualism. The five-seven-five syllable format must be adhered to; this format cannot be adhered to, not in any sanity. But then all sanity has something to do with sanitation or sanitizing–Haiku does not sanitize the world, it does not clean up or disinfect its observations.
Haiku encapsulates; encapsulation is a cheapening of one’s understanding of Haiku. Haiku is. Or is it that Haiku is Haiku when Haiku functions as Haiku functions? What then can we say? What then must we do? To do or not to do just might be another question–the other question? How many are there? What do we need to know about Haiku? What do we want to know?
How do we write a Haiku? This seems as if it were an appropriate place to begin. But what is a Haiku? When is a haiku? The latter might be better than either of the former two. There is freedom in haiku. There is an incredible adherence to the dictates of form that is present in all haiku. Can we talk about successful Haiku? We can so about poetry. What then is this about haiku not being poetry? It is poetry, but it is not poetic. Keats talk about the poet being the least poetic of all beings? Like leaves to a tree, poetry must come. How much like a haiku this is, Keats talking about poetry. When we swim, we luxuriate in water; it is not exactly to get to the other side. How unlike the chicken crossing the road we are. The chicken has no other reason to cross the road but to get to the other side. Even if I get to the other side, I swim, I luxuriate in the water. I am not talking about saving my life from drowning. That is not swimming, is it?
The sound of water . . . what could this possibly mean. Why the oblique allusions? Zen is the heart of Haiku; no, haiku is heart of Zen. Haiku is the essence of yet; yet is at the heart of all haiku? is at the beginning of all haiku; is at the end? What then this idea of beginning and end; haiku is beginning and end? It is always between, somewhere always an entrance and an exit?
Haiku comes out of Tanka, the extended string of call and response by Japanese poets; haiku, renga, haiku, renga, et cetera et cetera. the 5-7-5 of haiku makes an observation; the 7-7 response or addition or counterpoint or whatever might be a better word for what the renga is in the sequence . . . one answers the other, adds to the other, diverts the other, converges with the other, the previous, the before that comes and the after that flows from . . . what more or less can we say should we say? What are the should of haiku? They are many; they are none.
Haiku resolves diference; no, haiku cant be haiku if it tries to resolve differences. Haiku reconciles differences but leaves them be. Let it be might be the motto of Haiku; how could haiku have a motto? Haiku is its own motto, over and over revised. Every haiku revises every other haiku; each one revises them all; all of haiku is present in every new haiku; every new haiku erases the entirety of all the haiku ever written or spoken. How does the frog plunge into the sound of water? Haiku are not to be explained. Satori is at the center and on the perimeter simultaneously with haiku. Sudden illumination?
I have written many haiku. I can judge them. I have worked with the form a long time–maybe my hubris will undermine me. How long is long enough one could never say. Time in the mind and time on the clock and time in the unconscious are all time but neither one nor the other the same as any other. Time is the moving arrow; time is a tunnel I pass through. Passing through it, or it passing me by–zen time, time in haiku.
Haiku is like baseball–timeless? I’m trying to be clever; haiku never tries to be clever. It is cleverness itself. Haiku are always clever, more than clever, other than, at least–witty. Haiku are witty, ironic; these are observations made after the fact on the observations made in the moment.
What about reflections in tranquility. Wordsworth was awfully Zen; very haiku like in much of his poetry.
Burns was too–a lot like Issa, I have said. Others have as well.
I do not know what else to say herein about haiku. I can repeat, it seems, that Haiku is Haiku. Truth is in tautology–I’ve said this before. I’ll say it again. Haiku is microscopic; haiku is macroscopic; haiku is both of these simultaneously. Haiku does reconcile opposites even if it does not resolve them. Good is good; bad is bad and both exist, the Zen monks would say. Yes, tautology and a tolerance for it, or an observational recognition of how tautology does reveal truth, gives you a glimpse of the Truth.
I don’t want to burden haiku with the weight of western philosophical conceptions. I couldn’t even if I tried. Haiku is resilient. Haiku is this, haiku is that, haiku is here and it is there and it is here and there in simultaneity, as it is neither here nor there but always somewhere else and that too in simultaneity with it being here and there for yet another way to be.
There is probably nothing more Zen in our tradition than Hamlet’s to be or not to be, for that is the question, if haiku is indeed posing a question. I think haiku sets responses to any question to every question especially the questions never asked, or ever imagined.
Atmosphere and narrative–haiku is anti-narrative; it is not even lyric, as some think. Is it simply vocative. In Latin, what mood? Would we use the vocative mood? Arms and the Man . . . what else or more can I say? To say or not to say–wht to leave unsaid. Haiku suggests a world. I am a world.
A leaf falls from a branch, glides to the grass, up, over and around, then down. Is there anything more to say, other to say–what to say or not to say–saying anything is easy enough, but to say something can be difficult–something that means something, something that says other than what is said when we just blurt out words as if vomiting? That is the image we go for when we want to express the differences between what we infer or imply by saying anything and by saying something. No one can say everything–there is no way to do so at any time.
I imagined the other day that I saw leaves falling through bamboo.