marlene mountain
september 1986

an appreciation

For years I've watched, hoped, longed to see women create haiku from experiences which are unique to ourselves as women (searching even deeper than what is unique to ourselves as 'persons'). Experiences which only women can write. Experiences which celebrate or 'confess' or proclaim or express womanness. I'm rarely gratified--and I'm truly puzzled why women aren't as 'womanal' as they could be.

Is it that what is truly 'personal' about a woman is too personal, too private for haiku?

Is it that in the world-wide overview determined by patriarchal concepts under which we all live and breathe--which claims that a woman's body is inferior and incomplete, and that her emotions are suspect and 'rule' her (as compared to man's intellectual and non-emotional reputation)--women do not value their own uniqueness?

Had men--outside the bedroom--rather not know about us? Are not females in all cultures made aware at an early age, explicitly as well as subtly, that men don't want to hear about our 'problems'? I believe there is an underlying tone: 'Say nothing in broad daylight and in mixed company that would make us uncomfortable.' And it might follow: 'Especially, in Art; specifically, in haiku.' Whatever the reason (or reasons), we as a people have been denied a vast source of knowledge in general, and a vast resource of content in haiku, in particular.

Warm rain before dawn:
my milk flows into her
                              Ruth Yarrow
                                  Cicada 5:1

A wonderful and powerful haiku! A wonderful and powerful image of woman! Yet, I must hasten to clarify. Maternity, though an experience unique to woman--and a terrific example of what I'm seeking in haiku--is not my primary response. (That would be equivalent to the patriarchal scholars' response that ancient goddess images are 'fertility fetishes'--simplistic, on the one hand, and a deliberate, calculated denial of a larger picture, on the other.)

If we care to see beyond a very moving early morning intimacy between mother and daughter, we have within this haiku an entire encapsulation of 'the way it was.' Symbolic, even, of the political. Yes. Pointing to a time when woman was regarded as primacy in all matters. As inventor and establisher, among many endeavors, of art, science, agriculture, industry, writing, healing, and spirituality.

The image is rich in associations which go beyond the un/obvious nurturing of motherhood. The haiku takes women far back into our past. It has inherent within it the past matrilineal (mother-kinship) societies in which women passed their wisdom, their inheritance, and their spirituality onto their daughters. It speaks to a time in which woman was the symbolic as well as the actual presence of the cyclical rhythms of nature. When her nature was nature. Not only is the haiku a reaffirmation of the uniqueness of female--and the identification therein--it can be seen as a call upon woman to reclaim her ancient heritage. A piece such as Yarrow's--with either a covert or an overt reading--can be effective in establishing a spiritual bond with the past, and in restoring woman's original image.

To reclaim that a woman's body is not inferior (I am not the only one to claim it as superior), to reclaim that it certainly is not incomplete (but, rather, perfect), and even more importantly, to reclaim that a woman's emotions and ways of thinking and understanding are much needed in today's violent world--which is a hair-line away from being destroyed.

Yes, 'unseen' (what a powerful word in this haiku!), women are making dramatic changes towards peace and disarmament and towards equality. And, thanks to activist women such as Yarrow, we are also being seen. And we will make a difference--a very positive difference--in how the world is run, and whether the universe will continue.

The paragraph beginning with 'The image . . .' taken from 'Innerview' (self-interview, 1981), Frogpond 4:3 & 4 1981

Hiroaki Sato, HAIKU IN ENGLISH: A POETIC FORM EXPANDS, Simul Press, Tokyo, 1987. Modern Haiku 19:2 1988

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