marlene mountain
essay w/sequence
january 1988

when there was fire and small talk

For years and years I have felt that the language of Western haiku has been too complete. In other words, our poems sound too much like complete sentences, or parts of completed sentences, punctuated, and all that. I've longed for a more fragmentary poem. More fragmentary than 'minimal haiku,' less than what we have written. For instance, no 'the,' 'an,' 'a,' and even less. Unpolished---like the rice of Japan. (Some may wonder at this notion, in light of my more political and/or long-sounding haiku--but, that's another story.)

Since few of us read Japanese, we've come to think of--to depend upon--haiku as that which looks/sounds like English translations. Somehow it never seemed right to base an art on translations, and on what translators preferred to translate, and on what 'philosophies' they claimed the haiku represented. We, however, have been at their 'mercy'--maybe even at their whim, certainly their biases. We learned much (didn't we?) about how much we didn't know about translations from Lilli Tanzer's innovative venture of translations/derivations in the early years of 'Frogpond.' A true expose, a genuine education about the differences in interpretations by, certainly, well-meaning and intelligent translators.

Even before the 'Frogpond' issues, the literal translations of Japanese haiku by Harold Henderson 1 were absolutely fascinating:

Big-firefly waver-waver thus pass-through-keri   Issa

Spring-sea all-day-long undulating undulating kana   Buson

Cuckoo voice stretch-across : water's top   Basho

And even spooky. How, from these few raw and honest words, I wondered, came such long 'pretty' translations (and the same with the translations of Blyth, et al). It didn't make sense. Yes, haiku seemed to be more or less 'wordless.' Until one looked at the literal translations: the poetry seemed to be in the poetrylessness. The power of feeling in the 'simple' words, in the subject itself, in the poet's viewpoint.

It might seem as if I'm changing the subject, but I'm not: since 'we' didn't stay seaweeds, I have a deep wish that we, at least, had stayed hominids. In fact, a deep longing that at least I could 'return.' We as 'modern people' have turned into the 'beast' (what a misnomer!) we thought we'd left behind. Think of pre-wheel, of pre-domestication of four-footed ride-able beings. Of how life must have been--had to have been--(to use a cliche) close to nature.

Think of pre-hut, of even pre-cave. Of pre-clothes, and of pre-meateating. Gather as you go, go as you gather. Pre-grow and stay/stay and grow, pre-follow the herds. Pre-ownership of people, of 'mates' and of offspring. Pre-'law,' pre-divine (in the sky), pre-sexual compartmentalization. Pre-elaborate language constructs: when there was nothing (well, hardly anything) separating people and nature.

I'd like to think that hominid's communication was straight-talk (about themselves, their actions, and their surroundings)--perhaps in the form of poems.

hominid haiku

onearthed wom journal 2

light hit dark water sky water earth

wom digstick greenbasket

stone hotsmell share

wom catch man wom catch wom star

hill call call hill

tree rise

1 AN INTRODUCTION TO HAIKU, Doubleday Anchor Books, New York, 1958. 2 'wom' is my spelling of woman--getting away from woman being made a diminutive of man--or was it that man was a diminutive of woman?

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