Haiku evoke islands of cognitive coherence (those language parts and image-constellations which follow familiar lexical and syntactic rules), while by contrast cognitive disjunction (dissonance, alternativity) is evoked via lacunae, kire (cutting), and “misreading as meaning” evolving in reader-consciousness. In discussing the via negativa of haiku, Tsubouchi Nenten applies the term katakoto (broken language); Hasegawa Kai uses ma — especially psychological ma — connoting a “psycho-poetic interval of betweenness.”
Figure and ground are at any moment of reading both distinct and mutating. Because haiku are extremely brief, the reader not only reads but also re-reads. As re-reading occurs, further thoughts and feelings arise, interpretations build up, while some are discarded; you could say that the poem grows out of itself — thought grows out of itself, feeling grows out of itself, the image grows out of itself, imagination grows out of itself (and/or out of the poem). I term this process “misreading as meaning” because haiku resist easy solutions as to meaning, resisting reader attempts to ferret out singular meanings or messages, scenes, worlds, or any singular, “true” interpretation. (Gilbert, “Plausible deniability: Nature as hypothesis in English‑language haiku,” Sec. 3.1 & 3.2, 2009. https://bit.ly/2WgaNeh)
In the haiku below, ma arises between the words and images. This psychological phenomenology is a form of cutting (kire), central to the nature of haiku as a poetic form. Many haiku create an obvious, literal cut — by, say, using the em-dash, semicolon, or line-break. Yet in Constable’s “first light” the sense of disjunction is rather mysteriously evocative, as each succeeding line is positioned at a psychological distance from the previous. What is the not-green of green seen at dawn? In Stevenson, an evocation of ma seems the most potent element in this strongly reader-resistant work: how is it that “a bird” is ascribed to the conditionally-causative “if”? A delicate and fragile sense of pathos accompanies the strongly hypothetical image. There exists an altogether different kind of ma in Kilbride’s haiku of social consciousness, alluding to the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” US policy on “military service by gays, bisexuals, and lesbians, instituted by the Clinton Administration on February 28, 1994” (cf. Wikipedia). As well, an 18-year ban on photos of military coffins was only (partially) lifted in 2009. The multiple vectors of reference exhibited in this poem — societal context, regarding the sanitization of war, structural discrimination, censorship, and needless death — create the sense of ma; what has been purposely hid lies between the lines.
first light not enough words for green if glass breaks easily a bird body bag not asking not telling
[Susan Constable, Living Haiku Anthology, 2006; John Stevenson, Haiku 2015 (Modern Haiku Press, 2016); Jerry Kilbride Haiku in English (W.W. Norton, 2013)]
Here are three haiku published this year each, for different reasons, evokes ma — a sense of “psychological inbetweenness.” Your comments on any of the haiku presented here are welcome:
writing life into its symbols missing years of wind
Rebecca Lilly (is/let, 28 Feb 2020)
Scott Metz (is/let, 17 Feb 2020)
where the truth tends into horseshit into god
Kelly Sauvage Angel (Bones 19, 15 Mar 2020, 108)
Richard Gilbert, professor of English Literature at Kumamoto University in Japan, is the author of Poetry as Consciousness: Haiku Forests, Space of Mind, and an Ethics of Freedom (illustrated by Sabine Miller, Kebunsha Co. Ltd., 2018, ISBN 978-4-86330-189-4), The Disjunctive Dragonfly (Red Moon Press, 2008, rev. 2013), and Poems of Consciousness (Red Moon Press, 2008), among others. He is also director of the Kon Nichi Translation Group, whose most recent book is the tour de force Haiku as Life: A Tohta Kaneko Omnnibus (Red Moon Press, 2019). In January 2020, he announced the creation of Heliosparrow Poetry Journal, an evolution of the Haiku Sanctuary forum.