marlene mountain
october 1990

oh, wit of wit

When I got notice of 'The First International Women's Haiku Competition,' my first response was that it's time hadn't come. More likely, I figured, it would be a 'Haiku by Women Competition.' Not much for contests (particularly, competitions), I entered anyway, just to be a part of it all. The published results more or less confirmed my feelings that there is haiku by women as distinguished from women's haiku. I rather wondered just the same if some 'women's haiku' might have gotten overlooked; but, what the heck, says I, and let it go.

Recently I received a Haiku Canada Newsletter (5:3), in which one of the judges of the contest, Anita Virgil, declared all the Honorable Mentions but one were SENRYU (her caps). News to me, because the guidelines said, 'Work under the category of 'senryu' should be marked as such by the AUTHOR (my caps).' Nowhere was it stated that a judge would decide which was what. I can't speak for the other women, but I didn't write senryu on my cards--and I find it troublesome that such a judgment is made contrary to an author's opinion (and the guidelines).

The winning haiku has a woman in the bath[tub] singing in summer twilight. My haiku (now labeled a senryu) has a woman speaking on a nice day/night as the windows are up. We don't know if the bathing woman is singing the blues or what, in the latter she is speaking of her pain.

The second place haiku is about a fisherman waiting which has the potential of being more humorous (if that's a definition of senryu) than a woman waiting to give birth. But, oh, wit of wit, she's near a 'ripe' sign. Even more 'witty' is the only H.M. HAIKU (Virgil's caps), a boy singing with his mouth full (of cherries, we presume).

None are these comments is intended to reflect on the merit of the haiku, but on this haiku/senryu 'confusion' and 'overlapping' we poets and magazine editors once again have 'foisted' on readers.

Someone has got to come up with a terrific definition--and I mean a meaningful one--that leaves absolutely no doubt as to the difference between Western haiku and senryu before I'll buy into it. As I've said many times, I don't distinguish between nature and human nature, nor human nature and human affairs. Why should we attempt to split ourselves up so strangely and separate ourselves from full relationship with our environment??? (Remember Humpty-Dumpty?)

What is 'nature,' anyway? Does it just mean 'scenery'? WEBSTER'S NINTH NEW COLLEGIATE DICTIONARY speaks to a broader definition than that. '1 a: 'the inherent character or basic constitution of a person or thing: ESSENCE b: DISPOSITION, TEMPERAMENT 2 a: a creative and controlling force in the universe b: an inner force or the sum of such forces in an individual' and '6: the external world in its entirety 7 a: man's [sic] original or natural condition' and then comes '8: natural scenery.'

The definition of 'human nature' includes behavior acquired socially as well as fundamental traits. Though I believe human nature as defined by patriarchal culture is not at its finest hour, I wonder if the ongoing academic debate of 'nature verses nurture' has much to do with poetry.

I've had fun with words and phrases to point to initial ways of looking at some of my haiku. These include 'unaloud,' 'dadaku,' 'punk,' 'women's punk,' 'untamed,' and 'beyond untamed haiku.' But overall I see haiku--that word--as a genre in which we approach ourselves and our surroundings in a variety of ways, with a variety of attitudes and 'spirits'--as whole people. It's quite possible that haiku falls within the even broader genre of 'women's haiku.'

Haiku Canada Newsletter 6:2 1990/91

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