marlene mountain
january/february 1993


To some present and previous haiku editors (and poets too):

a poll

Years ago Anita Virgil wrote a haiku in part about an African zebra. When we learned it had been inspired by an image on television some of us were shocked (shock happened a lot in the 1970s). To do such a thing just didn't seem right; it was almost but not quite as bad as made-up haiku.

A lot--to say the least--has changed in haiku content, form and attitude since then. That zebra (written in New Jersey) as well as Michael McClintock's Vietnam images (written in California) and a few other haiku showed the mass media not only bringing the world as it happens or just happened into our living rooms--into our collective consciousness--but into our notebooks and widening our ideas of poetry. Of haiku even.

In these times we usually know much more than we want to know. When we see a television reporter 'live from' another part of the world, for instance, about to don a gas mask while talking to us, even delaying to do so to give us more information about a possible missile attack--come on, Martin, shut up and put it on!--we're in the here and now.

I can't say how many times over the last several years and days when I realized I was about to see something horrible on the screen I've put my hand over my eyes and sort of peeked between my fingers. Even a few words--without images--as 'ethnic cleansing' and 'rape camps' affect us deeply, hurt us in ways we may not yet realize. To 'cope' in part with such sorrows and horrors I often claim them--the words--as one-line haiku: yes, 'ethnic cleansing' and 'rape camps.'

As troubling as 'things as they are' are I don't believe I'd want one of those extra-special 'minds,' Zen or otherwise, through which we are supposedly able to transcend the world's jillion daily injustices. (Our regular minds do much of this automatically.) Do you remember in SHOGUN [I think] that the general (or whoever) was able to go into his tea room tent--set up and prepared beautifully near his battlefield--to refresh and purify himself through 'clean' nature and art? This has always seemed somewhat perverse (more so than Bush in his speed boat during his several conflicts). Does a refreshed 'leader' prolong a conflict which then allows even more atrocities?

Indelible as images are these days there is much more ghastly information not mentioned in the mass media. Many times I've had to slam a book or magazine closed as I learned of atrocities which have happened to women and are happening at this very moment (keenly perceived).

Around 1980 I learned--much to my horror--about excision/clitoridectomy, infibulation, defibulation and reinfibulation. Since then I've tried numerous ways--in haiku and in painting--to exorcise those images from my mind and heart. But even during lovemaking I've shuttered to know that what was pleasurable to me was impossible for at least ninety million women and girls in parts of Africa and the Middle East--the pain and life-long complications from such mutilations I can't even fathom. I might ask (before the poll) when you've 'seen' Somalia females on the nightly news that you've known they've had to endure these mutilations--anytime from birth to puberty?

Does/Can/Should an artist soften the blow of reality? Maybe, maybe not. I do feel if 'what's happening' is brought into the realm of art that some conditions can change for the better. On several occasions I have had that very experience, that very healing.

Although it's obvious that I've yet to exorcise myself completely of these realities I do cling to the idea that the acknowledging, naming, making visible through poem or painting can enter into the earth's spirit in ways we're not yet aware. Perhaps art-of-the-horrid dialogue allows us to live--not just survive--somewhere between complete madness and complete psychic numbness.

All this, maybe, is rather a long introduction to a poll. I would ask if you might read somalia the body the heat (and the enclosed material as background) and let me know if the sequence is 'a printable' by you, why you would or why you would not print it? I can think of several obvious and easy 'no' answers, e.g., young people might read the magazine. These days they seem much more sophisticated than adults. Often, however, I say 'adult haiku'--in a 'dadaku' sort of way (a spoofing of haiku). It's not that I'm trying to get this sequence in a magazine--that could already happen--I'm truly interested in where we are, in content, in attitude.

Can a haiku come about through a labyrinth of 'information'? (If I'm not mistaken there're many Japanese haiku with allusions to Chinese poetry, etc. Well, I really shouldn't have brought up Japanese haiku because it has nothing to do with all this.) Would it be of interest to have the sequence printed with my comments and those of all the editors? We no doubt will find out rather quickly how the poets feel. And of late I've been encouraged to read of their 'feelings' in haiku.


'if the clitoris is the seat of woman's pleasure, then away with it! women are meant to bear children; that she should draw pleasure for the sexual act is unthinkable' aristotle

a haiku sequence from my heart

somalia the body the heat

somalia heat butcher-knife her ugly clitoris & labia minora off

scrape and bind labia majora a small blood & pee hole

family-to-be inspects for marriage a perfect virgin body

slice open for his unique allah-given size

moral & faithful she's not to have pleasure can't have

slit again a bundle of joy again close slit again

with other roving weapons he joins the male self-hatred game

she & his offspring deserted in the desert

toward rumors of food flies thrive on their sun-filled skin

the cradled rag of bones drops as she falls

hard death to a troubled & damaged life but she's only a woman

her mother of earth accepts all that's left to accept

1) excision or clitoridectomy 2) infibulation 4 & 6) defibulation 6) reinfibulation

[enclosure: 'Female Genital Mutilation' by Fran P. Hosken, Woman of Power #18]

Raw Nervz Haiku 2:3 1995

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