A Haiku Poetics: Remystification (Part 1)
Becoming what you are presupposes that you do not have the slightest idea what you are.
— Nietzsche (1888)
Remystification, a term introduced in Poetry as Consciousness (2018) indicates a contemplation of open-mindedness preliminary to analyses of haiku.1 The coinage has several layers of meaning. In this essay I will discuss three aspects: aesthetic arrest, the sense of space, and arising of “haiku cosmos” (a term employed by Hasegawa Kai) within haiku. Remystification suggests that analyses of haiku first be based on appreciations rather than on employed techniques, or content interpretation: To linger on the mystery of consciousness provoked by the mysteriousness of haiku. The re- of remystification suggests that it is always possible to re-enter, or re-engage, with elements of mystery inherent in haiku. As presented in “Creative Blooms 13,” the mysteriousness of the world created by the object has tended to be neglected or misunderstood.
Emily Dickinson writes:
If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.
The mystery of living is a craft of being. The mystery of being, where the poetry of consciousness begins as an exploration of the space of thought. For the sensitively engaged reader, the space of thought as a form of aesthetic arrest applies to haiku. Space can be connoted in various ways. Language use commonly indicates a rupture or break in (pressured) habit, or mental speed. Implied is a resurrected sensitivity to nuance. Psychologically, space invokes alterity and potentialities of form — for instance, a fertile, creative void. Space cannot mean mere emptiness, unless imagination itself be empty; the form of a poem is an imagination of the new in which nothing is preordained. What might be written or thought does not lie in repositories that we visit — in this sense the opposite of surprise would be the preordained: the expected, the formulaic. Haiku of mere realism are treated as garakuta — “junk haiku” — by Hasegawa Kai (as will be discussed in Part 3). For the reader, the potency of aesthetic arrest in the specious present,2 essential to haiku, is an embodied experience of “my whole body,” as Dickinson writes.
Invoking the sense of mystery, Octavio Paz emphasizes the liminal act of the poet in divining the new via raw energy — natural force and rupture — the poem as “an object of participation”:
Poetic creation begins as a violence to language. The first act in this operation is the uprooting of words. The poet wrests them from their habitual connections and occupations: separated from the formless world of speech, words become unique, as if they had just been born. The second act is the return of the word: the poem becomes an object of participation. Two opposing forces inhabit the poem: one of elevation or uprooting, which pulls the words from the language; the other of gravity, which makes it return. (Paz, O. (1956). The Bow and the Lyre, Ruth L. C. Simms, trans., U Texas Press, 28.)
The violence indicated is not aggression but irruptive power — as with an ocean storm, or earthquake — the uncanny tidal pull of the moon. Paz and Dickinson insist on a poetics that is neither tepid nor timid. Acknowledging a mysterious space in haiku, remystification is at the same time a mysterious space in mind.
“Haiku Poem, Haiku Mind” and Stance
The “Creative Blooms” series is an idea Jim Kacian proposed a few days after my presentation at Haiku North America last August (HNA 2019). I had traveled from Japan to Winston-Salem, to revisit the delightful locale of my first HNA (2007) conference. The presentation I gave, “Haiku Poem, Haiku Mind: Exploring Diversity and Life-philosophy in Contemporary Haiku,” draws in part on interviews with Kaneko Tohta, a leading light of haiku in Japan 60 years on (he died in 2018, age 98). One of Kaneko’s keynote conceptions is taido: the author’s stance. This can briefly be summarized as: a committed, embodied (internalized), living viewpoint, bearing, or attitude that the poet has evolved through self-effort — thus achieving something of value to say in order to effectively address and critique society.
Kaneko presented stance as a challenge to modern haiku in Japan, beginning in the postwar era, when the question of continuing the haiku tradition (following war defeat) was much in question. Whether one considers stance within the scope of haiku, or life more generally, Kaneko’s attitudinal challenge to the haiku poet is relevant as a matter of attainment to artistic craftsmanship and mastery. Stance can be perceived through various lenses: aesthetic, political, psychological, philosophical, the particulars of exploration being left to each artist. Kaneko was not an ideologue and vociferously rejected “-isms.”
The HNA talk I gave, “Haiku Poem, Haiku Mind” is on video, and free to watch.3 It attempts to articulate my stance, as of 2019, on haiku. Attempting this presentation confirmed to me that stance is more process than place, an ever-evolving indeterminacy, with shifting lines of demarcation. Section 2 of the talk was titled “Blooms — Creative Diversity” and presented several thematic groups of haiku examples. It was this part of the talk (included in the video) that attracted Jim’s interest; Creative Blooms was proposed to me over some excellent local whisky, as I recall.4
Concerning my first public appearance in the United States, HNA 2007, a key point of history was the earlier publication of “The Disjunctive Dragonfly” in Modern Haiku in 2004, available online.5 This essay introduced the concept of disjunction in haiku. In doing so, several established concepts and definitions were taken to task, particularly that of juxtaposition. While initially received with some question, at HNA 2007, I met many attendees deeply committed to the evolution of haiku in English and engaged in positive discussions. In particular, conversations with Bill Higginson were fortuitous. He attended my lecture on Hasegawa Kai, encouraging my further research. I deeply appreciate his expansive intellectual curiosity and engagement. I also met Lee Gurga — in 2004, as co-editor of Modern Haiku, Lee provided strong editorial input and fought to publish “Disjunctive Dragonfly.” Without that journal publication, I would likely have given up on publishing in American haiku journals.6 With regard to remystification, it may benefit readers to review both the “Haiku Poem, Haiku Mind” talk and the “Disjunctive Dragonfly” essay, as they offer a useful context to what will follow in the next installment, as “Creative Blooms — A Haiku Poetics: Remystification, Part 2.” To end this part, I would like to present some haiku of strong disjunction, that exemplify different aspects of space in “haiku cosmos.”
A philosophical-poetics (philopoetics) utilizing new forms of language and thought spawns novel worlds of mind. These compositions reveal how imaginative modes that break with conventional thought — in language, image or story — not only surprise, but may inspire revolutions (remystifications) in how a “world” is defined, or comes into existence.
MY LIFE BEHIND GLASS
so lonely, the little verbs
a blue coffin one nail escapes the solar system
from somewhere else youre a prairie skyline
(Sabine Miller Haiku 2016; Peter Yovu Haiku 2014; John Martone The Disjunctive Dragonfly, 2012)
Miller’s “my life” is unusual in the way the first line in the couplet is headlined; it may be viewed as an epitaph or (prison) sentence, or signboard explaining an animal (as in a zoo); what is the creature behind that glass? Vulnerable, tender volitions of language, here personified — there is also heart and rhythmic music in “so lonely, the little.” Novel worlds challenge rules of physical reality — by eliding impossible architectures of a philosophical (wisdom-loving) poetics, a certain profundity is achieved. In the Yovu is the resurrectional ascent of the impossible: a coffin nail flies outward towards the cosmos — why only “one nail”? This image posits a philopoetic idea. Martone’s obscure lead-in, “from somewhere else” is a purposeful instantiation of self (identity) as an intangible — also note the semantic disfluency of “youre.” These three haiku above play with violent semantic and epistemic shifts, which throw us out of habitual consciousness.
Comments addressed to the content of this essay are welcome, as are haiku that might come to mind.
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 Kaneko Tohta Omnnibus (Red Moon Press, 2019). In January 2020, he announced the creation of Heliosparrow Poetry Journal, an evolution of the Haiku Sanctuary forum.
- In Gilbert, R. (2018) Chapter 6, “Haiku, and an Ethics of Freedom” (from p. 137). prior to a consideration of the 36 qualities of “thoughtspace” presented in the 200-plus haiku examples that follow. See: https://tinyurl.com/PoetryConsciousness. ↩
- Cf. William James, “The prototype of all conceived times . . . the short duration of which we are immediately and incessantly sensible.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Specious_present. ↩
- Archived by THF (note that the first few minutes missing): https://www.thehaikufoundation.org/omeka/items/show/5883 ↩
- Within these Creative Blooms will publish what are likely the final translations of our Kon Nichi Translation Group, focusing relatively unknown (outside japan) female gendaihaiku poets. The Kon Nichi Translation Group has been together since 2004, published some eight books, numerous journal articles, and the materials at https://gendaihaiku.com. It has been a pleasure and privilege to share our love of haiku poetry, concepts, and culture across the great waters. ↩
- Though the much expanded book has been available for some years, the original essay can be read here: Gilbert, R., “The Disjunctive Dragonfly: A Study of Disjunctive Method and Definitions in Contemporary English‑language Haiku.” ↩
- There are a number of people it’s been my pleasure to meet at the HNA conferences over the years. As a long-term expat in a non-English environment, these opportunities to meet and discuss haiku in my native tongue have been all too rare I would like to offer a note of appreciation to Red Moon Press, which has published Kon Nichi Group translations, from 2008 on. A number of my published articles are available to read or download here. ↩