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 . . . what is there now for me to say about the falling leaves, you know that the season says what it does, as I paraphrase a friend of mine, a poet, who said as much I think I remember from his latest book . . .
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, not in English. 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. I remember writing a haiku on the viewing of my stool in the bowl with the toilet paper . . . something about
a loaf of shit floating
in yellow tinted water–
missing a fly
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? I am I; you are you; the only truths are in tautologies.
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 talks 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? Alpha and Omega–Jesus is the supreme haiku. There is an awful lot of Zen in the Gospels. There is an awful lot of collateral being in Buddha and Jesus. Jesus is Bodhisattva; you have to know this, as would be San Francesco, Il Poverello da Assisi.
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 shoulds of haiku? They are many; they are none. They are here; they are they there; they are between here and there; what is between here and there. Between in French is entre; the origin of the English ‘enter’ is contained by this, or is it that this is in the meaning of the English ‘enter,’ to enter is to between, yes, every entrance as my friend, a poet, has said before in other essays, other stories, other poems; every entrance, he said, is a between, not that it is between here and there or inside and outside, but that there is a location that is between; every journey has this between-ness about it, no?
Haiku resolves difference; no, haiku cannot 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–what 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.
I imagined another day that I saw snow falling though bamboo.
Snow falling through bamboo for Christmas. Leaves covered by a blanket of snow, white.
Most of my notebooks have been a combination of journal and poet’s notebook, many of the journal entries themselves having been informed by my writing of poetry, reading of poetry, study of poetry, critical responses on poetry . . . what more needs to be said; there is nothing of or by necessity that I do when I write except be–to be or not to be is every writers question when she writes or does not write, if he makes time to or does not make time to write, writing, writing, writing, the petty paces, I like to say . . . repeating myself is a habit I indulge–habit long enough endured becomes like nature, and what is my nature, our nature, human nature is what when compared to homo-sapiens nature? One is not the other, one-hundred per cent human and one-hundred per cent animal? Only if humane are we human, otherwise the human we create is grotesque and deformed–a particular irony that Hugo seizes in his most humane hunchback Quasimodo, who is horribly deformed, but is the highest of humans in his humanity, how humane he really is.
Do you understand what I am saying, to stand under, to hold up, to bear the weight of someone, of something, I wonder if the one’s I am surrounded by know this, as corrupted by their own neuroses as they are, debased in their affections and their sense of what it means to be humane, or even just a friend, which should not be “even just,” stealing from one another like alley cats scavenging a garbage pail . . . and these are women, middle-aged, American, contemporary, although expert at blowing smoke up each other’s assholes. I do not know how they cannot have hemorrhoids with all the smoke they blow about each other up each other, like my girlfriend from Russia has said about a group she performs with
They don’t have any sense how full of shit they sound to any ear outside their circle. I do not know how anyone could not. How can they imagine that others do not see how mean-spirited, cheap and greedy they are–and I have found in my experiences here and toward me and to me and for me that many people from formerly oppressed groups in America are often times the worst culprits; the greediest, or the pettiest, or the most mean-spirited, or simply the nastiest, or the most condescending, or the least patient, or the most arrogant, or the most narrow-minded, or the most natio-centric jingoistic Chauvinistic assholes you can meet, and this is from my non-native Russian eyes here for twenty years in your glorious full-of-fucking-shit America, so put that in your ass and smoke it. And don’t try to teach me what your fucking idioms are because I know what I am saying–I mean for you to smoke that in your ass, pack it in real tight.
I have to learn to let things go, but in Italy this would be different–would it? I think it might be which is not to say that Italians have not become assholes like Americans, and I have that Russian girlfriend who has said that if any of these American pieces of shit had half the passion and loyalty of Russian Orthodox Christians (and right there she is probably full of shit, just as full of shit as Jews, Protestants, Italians, anybody else because not only is Cain Abel’s brother, but Polynices and Eteocles were brothers too, as Absalom was David’s son) . . . they’d all be ten times better people; and maybe they would–American women are real fucking assholes to each other, even I think. Better women? Maybe? I don’t know. Maybe American women have to go through some–some what? What do they have to go through? Is it change? Transformation? Transubstantiation? What is it that is happening to American women that all women in the world have to go through to bring about a better world I think is what all of us wonder, no? But–but what? There are a million buts and a million but what? rhetorical responses.
Friendship is something Americans rarely understand, is somnething everyone from everywhere else says. In my experience in teaching many from among New York’s non-native populations, it is indescribable how ethnocentric and Chauvinistic they are–real assholes when it comes to how condescending and arrogant they can be, how racist, how prejudiced and bigoted they are. It’s amusing and scary at the same time . . . but this about Americans and friendship,what is it about them and their friends that others see? The ways that allow them to practice friendship mean what to others from somewhere else–American women especially are all very good at talking friendship, just as they are really good at talking about the need to talk without ever really talking or saying anything–yes, women here are good at spitting back the appropriate received ideas and slogans of feminist solidarity, but they lack the real sorority of their grandmothers, although much of this has come from my friend’s experiences with Russian women here in America, friends she said she saw change for the worse, permitting themselves behavior they would never have allowed themselves in Russia, and also for Russian Ashkenazi, much, much worse, even a few living up to old Russian anti-Semitic stereotypes, if you can believe that, her father used to see, say, could not believe, himself Jewish and a virtual dissident in the former Soviet Union. Why wouldn’t you believe it? Don’t you see people everywhere, including young people, living up to one or another stereotype irrespective of who manufactures the type-cast or how it is disseminated? We are always less than ourselves I know from me, less than myself at every turn, no matter if I could do more, I can only perform less. But this is why the could haas to be kept because then we will stretch, and in the stretching,maybe we will do more than the less we have done before which will still be less than what we could, always.