May 16th 2016

Yesterday’s haiku was loosely inspired by Buson’s haiku:
piercing chill
····stepping on my dead wife’s comb
········in the bedroom

mi ni shimu ya/naki tsuma no kushi o/neya ni fumu

Buson’s haiku is very well known among readers of haiku in English—if not famous. It’s also famous in Japan though for a different reason. When Buson wrote the haiku his wife was alive and well and would outlive him by 31 years. In some circles the haiku looses its burnish because of its lack of emotional veracity—it doesn’t express the poet’s feelings genuinely. More to the point: Buson’s chill is a literary feint rather than an expression of true feeling. Implied in this critique is the assertion that haiku aren’t meant to be fictional but are, ideally, deeply personal, truthful and spontaneous expressions of realized truths—an aesthetic that, perhaps, reflects the influence of Zen Buddhism and the ideals of satori, a “state of sudden spiritual enlightenment” .
It’s an idealization of the form that one often encounters, but it’s belied by the poets themselves including, of course, Basho, who frequently revised his poems.
There’s also the implication that the reader, who is apt to identify with a poet like Buson and Basho, feels cheated when their empathy is bestowed on a work of fiction. They want to experience the poet’s emotional life, but fail to comprehend (this being my criticism) that the poet is always writing literature, is always (in a sense) telling a lie, and that the work of creating literature (as distinct from truth-telling) is also a part of the poet’s emotional life.
To experience Buson’s haiku about his dead wife truthfully is to do so as an artist and a poet—and that, if you ask me, is just as moving and authentic.
·····on the early morning snow—apple
Snow fell in the early morning hours. The tops of the mountains were capped with snow and the cars and trucks carried it into the valleys.
192 May 16th 2016 | bottlecap


2 responses

  1. I came to your post this morning after spending an hour and a half struggling with non responses to requests that colleagues assume one or another’s In Memory writing task for a fallen classmate. We’re all in that breaking wave of turning 80, more than a few already there, the rest of us rushing toward it as our turns come. Your homily this morning was calming for me but leads me to suggest that in addition to satori, or experiencing, or relative truth, there might just be a therapeutic or even pedagogical dimension as well to haiku but maybe especially to haibun as well??


    • Hi Hendrik, I think that’s probably true. Why not? Unfortunately, as much as I’d like to make that argument, my mind doesn’t turn like that. I had half entertained writing a spiritual journeyman’s guide to writing haiku, but I’m not methodical that way. I don’t pursue spirituality. I figure it’s all around me and all I have to do is look. If I were a wanderer, I’d be aimless.

      I think there must be therapeutic benefits to writing haiku. During the course of the day I’m a little more aware, a little more ‘looking’ for that observation that is like a realization. And, contrary to the belief that haiku must be spontaneous, I often go back and revise to better capture what I imagined. For instance, in the poem above, I just a moment ago changed ‘falling’ to ‘drifting’. I’m not sure it’s better but I wanted to capture that fleeting moment of the apple blossoms (imagine them white) falling like snow on top of snow. I changed falling to drifting to hopefully better capture that relationship. What’s therapeutic about that? Maybe it’s like a kind of meditation on words. Would we perceive the world the same way without words? I wonder…

      Edit: I changed it back to falling, think that better captures the “surprising” idea of snow beneath a blossoming tree.


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