Thursday, September 28, 2006

Scifaiku part 1

Last week I received my copy of the special edition CD of Scifaikuest with a couple of my poems in it. I know haiku don't have the highest esteem among some people, probably largely because they seem so easy and elementary school teachers have their students write them. How hard can they be if eight-year-olds get them plastered on the schoolroom wall?

But a haiku that's well written is much more than the 5-7-5 syllable format they teach to kids. The syllable count is really only a rough guide, not set in stone. What's essential, though, is the spirit of the haiku. (In the same way, a sonnet is more than just the the 14 lines of iambic pentameter in one of several rhyme schemes--there's a certain movement within the poem that makes it a sonnet) In poetry classes in college we would sometimes talk about tripping points, those phrases or lines that send you, not into the poem or out of the poem, but beyond it. Some poems will have multiple tripping points. I remember some of Annie Dillard's early poems seemed to at least try for a tripping point every line. Arnold's "Dover Beach" and Eliot's "The Hollow Men" each have several to go with the different sections. Others have one, but it sends readers sailing, and all the lines and words work together to keep them tripping along that same line. Coleridge's "Kublai Khan" does this.

So what's this have to do with haiku? I'd say that a haiku is that tripping point condensed. It sets a scene at the beginning full of resonant images, and the final line trips the reader beyond the poem, beyond the images into contemplating something deeper, something that can't quite be grasped in words. It's like a koan, those cryptic Zen statements meant to be outside analysis, on the edges of reason.

OK, I hadn't meant to spend all that time defining and defending haiku. Different types of tripping points work for different people, and I have no problem with someone not particularly caring for the haiku form. But it's important to recognize that that's purely a personal preference, nothing more. A lot of the dismissal of haiku seems to respond only the elementary school form, not the work of accomplished poets, and it fails to realize what's going on. So before getting into the CD itself, I felt I had to establish that there's more going on in these poems than some people might think. And they're worth examining.

So I guess I'll have to make this a 2-part post and get to the CD next.


RichM said...

There's a huge gulf between the mainstream poets and those of us who try to write in forms adopted from Asia. The one aspect of haiku which everybody knows about is "5-7-5" and it is the one thing which does not really work in English, making these poems much longer and wordier than a typical Japanese haiku. Not to mention much easier to write badly. The rest of the haiku tradition, with kigo and kireji and everything, never made it into the popular consciousness in the West about haiku.

It's worthwhile to keep fighting the fight though. I'll see you in that May 2007 issue of Scifaikuest which will have one or two of my own poems in it.

Daniel Ausema said...

I completely missed your comment earlier (whenever it was posted), so if you do wander back here, thanks for stopping by! And congrats on your poems too. You're right that there's so much more to haiku and the other related forms than we tend to be aware of in translation.