marlene mountain
from the mountain
review of the old tin roof

red chrysanthemums

Cor van den Heuvel

Not too many years ago most American haiku were written in three lines of 5-7-5 syllables--an attempt to parallel the Japanese haiku's division into 5-7-5 onji. Hardly anyone would insist on such syllable counting today, yet there are still many critics who attack any haiku which is not in three lines, or which does not juxtapose two images, or which does not follow any of the other 'traditional' rules they feel have been essential to Japanese haiku.

Of course 'traditional' can have many meanings. When Marlene Wills [Mountain] writes:

at dusk hot water from the hose

though some traditionalists might claim it isn't haiku because it isn't in three lines, so-called 'radical' defenders of the 'new' haiku could point out that it is actually closer in form to traditional Japanese haiku than three-liners, because Japanese haiku are also printed in one line (albeit vertical).

When she writes:

leaf mold

a conservative critic is sure to shout, 'who ever heard of a five-line haiku?' Another may say it is too short because it has only seven syllables.

It is true that these two poems (from Wills' book, the old tin roof) are much shorter than what many people here think of as haiku. Wills calls them 'minimal haiku.' Presenting a single image in extremely concise language, they provide a haiku experience by an association of ideas (renso), which, through suggestion, goes beyond what is actually named in the poem.

It is obvious in the 'hose' poem that the season is summer, that the sun has been warming the hose and the water in it most of the day, and that because it is now dusk and the air is cool, the hot water comes as a surprise, more than a surprise--a wonder!

For the sun has disappeared beyond the horizon--yet here it is still in the hose, flooding over my hand. We experience the oneness of nature--the water, the sun, and the poet/reader.

In the second poem, one's fingers feel down through the dead leaves--where the slow combustion of decay is creating the soil from which new life will spring--to the cool mystery of the stone: down through the cycle of life and death to the eternal. We touch the infinite through the finite, and feel the unity of all existence.

One does not have to consciously think these things--they are felt--as one feels the damp, rotting leaves and the stone. A simple moment--nothing special--yet it touches, like the water from the hose, something deep within us.

These poems would never have been written were it not for Japanese haiku. They grew out of it. They are examples, perhaps of a new variety, among several being developed in this country. I have a feeling they are carrying on the true spirit of Japanese haiku.

Ki-giku shira-giku hito moto wa aka mo aramahoshi


Mainichi 2/25/78 Tokyo

[yellow chrysanthemums white chrysanthemums one 'base' as for red also I want]