marlene mountain
as is
spring 2001

unromancing the old haiku

a huge part of the underbelly of japanese haiku is the intellectualization of nature. to say that butterfly means spring is an intellectual concept also known as kigo. after the ga-zillion kigo are memorized and/or one lives at all times beside the big book of nature intellectualizations then one can be somewhat intuitive.

oh dear if one puts a butterfly in a summer autumn winter haiku. the mixed signals undo it as a haiku. a huge part of the craft of old haiku is to know kigo forwards and backwards. a reference to nature is simply not enough. it has to be the right kigo. study and memorize and study and memorize.

to contrast that butterfly with another image/thought in a haiku is an intellectualization. after that method [the 2-image theory] is learned then one can be somewhat intuitive.
1've nothing against any of these concepts. they're quite interesting. craft in haiku is quite complex--and then some. if one seriously wants to write haiku in the japanese spirit 2 lifetimes at least need to be devoted to a ga-zillion principles. after all it takes at least one lifetime in japan. there's terrific discipline/philosophy involved in old haiku just as there is in sumo wrestling, archery, tea, sumi-e, food on a plate, and so on. that's why some wonder if haiku is a poem as westerners think of literature. it is more about control--a variety of controls. haiku is closer to sumo wrestling than it is to anything we see in most translations. well it's just closer period.

minimalism, wordiness, even syllable-counting--these kinds of things-- have little to do with haiku. they are on the surface. the larger picture is how eastern one wants to be. the even larger picture is can one be eastern. the largest picture concerns imitation--if one can really do that. the very largest picture is the development of one's own honest haiku spirit [not group spirit]. this sometimes begins with the liberation of the butterfly.

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