by Jim Kacian
MARLENE MOUNTAIN is one of the most distinctive and earliest voices of the
English-language haiku movement. Her contributions include revolutionizing
the way we look at haiku, as well as broadening the range of content which
haiku generally are supposed to be able to contain. A painter as well as a
poet, she has mixed these media in her many presentations and exhibitions.
Her most recent painting series is, wreckcreation (find-your-own haibun).
Looking at my old notebooks, during the period around 1969, lineation was
open: horizontal, diagonal, vertical--one-line, two-line, three-line,
many-line haiku. There are often several versions of one image: ink
brush/stick, hand-written, typed, with or without punctuation or capital
letters, 'minimal' seventeen syllables, other configurations.
It is possible to see that not only is our present approach to living not
based on the natural way of the past but that the past has been intentionally
obscured to validate the present.. There is no alternative to getting radical
(at the root), getting rootical, asking more questions, making art out of
such experiences, such moments keenly perceived. It can happen.
There would have been more one-lines (my preferred term) in the old tin roof
(1976) and even after had I not been more interested at that time in a variety
of shapes, well, variety period. Often I changed one-lines from a
desire to have a visual aspect or effect. Concrete/one-line/minimal
images--they felt like sculpture I could hold in my hand.
I'm not sure when or why the woman of the M began integrating her name with
mountain, first signed her letters from the mountain. Abstract and
child-like two-peaked mountain shapes kept coming up until Marlene merged
with Mountain. The shape & the words: home, house, womb, heart, vulva, land,
nest, spirit, cave, valley, place.
Is there really a mystique in writing the world's shortest poem? Some have
never believed that haiku has anything to do with Zen; with oneness or
mindlessness or those other words; with 5-7-5 syllable counts; with seasonal
reference. What's left--to write a haiku in one breath's length? That
doesn't seem very hard to do and it's kind of funny.
I write haiku--yikes! 'Regular' poets don't have four zillion rules and
attitudes attached to what they write but haiku poets are stuck somewhere
between too much and not enough, with no-can-do which ironically is part of
the 'charm' of haiku. There have been so many problems that my current
definition is that haiku can no longer be defined.
In spite of my great admiration for Japanese esthetics--the very exciting
concepts and mannerisms which have caused many a Westerner to fall head over
heels in love if not in awe--I finally became aware that this was not where I
could come from. But, oh, Hagesawa Tohaku's Pines--that empty space that I
Blood in haiku--what is acceptable? Heroic battlefield blood? How about a
mild-mannered protest haiku, considering the violence surrounding the event,
'clitoris of the four-year-old removed'? Has haiku been written about
the blood of birth? Of menarche? What about Shiki's TB haiku? This is the
poem, isn't it, of the moment keenly perceived?
In her 1947 The Second Sex Simone de Beauvoir writes '. . . he is the
Absolute she is the Other.' One can't get more perceptive than that and
fifty years later it's still true. On reading this (c.1981) I was both
disturbed and excited by being 'the Other,' and inspired. I researched
women's ancient symbols, somehow missed in my education.
Today's news... To survive what I know, I have to write about/write out such
things. It's never been easy on me to do so. I don't do it for shock-value
as someone once asked; just to deal with my horror. Since I believe that
spirituality stems from the female from at least the upper paleolithic and
especially the neolithic times I've gone past (so to speak) all the rest.
Over the years since c.1961 I've made non-haiku collages and photographed
found collages and always felt that the somewhat arbitrary choices of words,
shapes, colors, textures and materials were beneficial to artists to get us
out of ruts. I produced one-line horizontal, one-line vertical, one-word and
other-line 'tear outs' into the 80's.
What surrounds a haiku, a context, an attitude, contributes mightily to its
energy. Basho's 'crow on a withered branch' exists primarily because it has
received much critical attention and discussion. Without all of that, one
could say that it's rather like a grade-school poem. Could it exist around
the world without the information surrounding it?
I do not understand whether art creates within each of us a longing or whether
there's an internal need which seeks a kind of art to satisfy itself.
There is a certain sensation, a certain rhythm to which one gravitates. Nor
do I understand how this (embedded) inner need can change abruptly, or occur
deeply inside until one has the courage to bring it out.
'Idea' is 'Inner-Goddess.' Contrast with 'concept.' "Medieval
theologians disliked the Idea's feminine connotations and turned away from
the ancient theory of the eide to astrological determination of thoughts.
Feminine 'idea' was replaced by masculine 'concept,'from Latin concipere
semina, a gathering of semen.'1
To answer 'how did you come to haiku,' I have to mention the late fifties
and early sixties when I was interested in painting and drawing the Oklahoma
land in impressionistic, expressionistic and abstract manners. Eventually I
came to feel that 'nature' did not fit well within a square or rectangular
1Barbara G. Walker, The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myth and Secrets, Harper
& Row, San Francisco, 1983.
MARLENE MOUNTAIN has B.F.A. and M.A. degrees in painting; an interest in
haiku since 1964; been published in journals since 1969; several books
self-published; is represented in collections and/or anthologies edited by
Cor van den Heuvel, Hiro Sato, Rod Willmot, William J. Higginson, Bruce Ross,
the Haiku Society of America, Kazuo Sato, Czeslaw Milosz, Red Moon Press,
Alexis Rotella, Gloria Orenstein, and upcoming, George Swede & Randy Brooks.
First published in South
by Southeast, V5:1, 1998 from the 1992
from the mountain manuscript, permission of M. Mountain.
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