Pleased to see a very positive review of my latest book of haibun Of This World appear in Frogpond, the Journal of The Haiku Society of America (Spring/Summer 2017, v. 40:2, pp. 115-116). Grateful to Randy Brooks for his review and generous comments:
Stella Pierides is an accomplished fiction writer as well as poet, which is evident from the careful crafting of narrators’ voices throughout Of This World: 48 Haibun. Some haibun writers load their prose with dense imagery such that it resembles a prose poem, followed by a prosaic haiku. However, in Pierides’ haibun, each haiku extends, not merely repeats, what has already been expressed in the prose. I also like the layout of this collection, with all haibun presented in the recto pages, and the verso pages blank.This layout gives the reader space and time to settle in with one haibun at time. With a variety of approaches and topics, it is clear that Of This World is not a collection of haibun “about me” but rather a collection that asks us to consider, ponder, reflect, and see things in a new light. It is a collection of narrator voices, positioning us to see the human condition, and allowing us to enter into each perspective. Her varyous narrators let us establish a relationship with each unique voice, and depending on the voice and topic, this allows us to construct our own imaginary closeness and distance. One of my favorite haibun is “Replacement Child,” which starts with the refrain, “If you are a replacement child, you are born to parents hoping to heal the loss of a child who died earlier” and ends with the haiku old photos / the dust / never settles. This is an outstanding collection of haibun worthy of study and imitation by those seeking to better understand this literary art.
Map-making has been traced back to the earliest of times. Maps help us orient, know our location, what other places there are, how to get there, what landmarks to look out for, depict how places are interconnected. They also help us with perspective-taking: we can picture our place as seen from someone else’s viewpoint, and vice versa. Although maps often turned out to be distorted or inadequate – the ‘flat earth’, for instance – and were replaced by improved ones, they were always part of our shared search for certainty.
Think of the time when maps had to be redrawn to incorporate scientific rather than theological notions of the earth. Reluctantly, we realized we were no longer the unique children of God, at the top of creation, living on an earth at the center of the universe, but tiny dots drifting along in a vast cosmos. The invention of the telescope allowed us to look beyond our narrow confines, revealing our common and humble origin and place in the world. Isn’t there a semblance here to what the internet and social media are doing today: making us realize that, rather than being solipsistic, only children, we are members of a large family sharing similar talents, creative ideas, concerns, ambitions?
Our need for map-making also extends to reading, as well as writing, haiku. While, as readers, we bring along our personal, familial, local, ideological baggage and while we open our hearts as well, we also need a map for finding our bearings in the haiku world, for becoming aware of the various ways this poetic form appears in; to stay with the metaphor, for knowing the position of other ‘planets’ or ‘stellar systems’ and their orbits and gravitational pulls.
Here is an instance of cartography in the haiku universe. In his essay in Frogpond, “Haiku as a Rhetorical Art. Haiku Poetics: Objective, Subjective, Transactional and Literary Theories”, Randy Brooks, following the Aristotelian tradition, considers the relationship between the basic elements of communication in writing – which he lists as reality, writer, reader, and language – and expands on a number of writing theories: the objective, subjective, transactional, and literary. If you bear with me, I’ll try to summarize them in one paragraph (the brevity here does them injustice – I urge you to follow up the link for the full map). But before I do, I’d like to quote Brooks’ caveat:
“…there is no ‘one way’ to write haiku, no single haiku poetic or haiku tradition to guide the writing and reception of haiku as a literary art. There is no final list of ‘do’s and don’ts’ that will codify the art of reading and writing haiku… On the broader level of haiku as a literary genre, we should embrace the observation that there are several ways, a multitude of traditions, a variety of haiku poetic theories. ”
For the purposes of this post, I’d emphasize that there is no ‘one way’ to read, analyze, or enjoy haiku either. There are the various ‘continents’, ‘planets’ in various orbits on the maps, and once we are aware of them, we can keep our direction or change it, if we wish to, more easily.
According to Brooks, the objective way of writing haiku involves perceiving and reporting nature in plain, objective words that convey direct sensory perception to the reader. The reader ‘steps into’ the writer’s perspective and reads the poem as intended. The subjective way emphasizes the inner, subjective world of the writer, expecting from the reader the role of a fan being interested in and understanding of the writer’s intended meaning; being inspired also to explore her own subjective experience. In transactional haiku poetics, reality is constructed and shared along a common language continuum between writer and reader. The reader is a socially aware partner in the creation of meaning. In literary poetics, writer and reader understand they inhabit a fictional world and use liberally the tools of fiction and poetry. The reader remains seated in the haiku audience, judging the literary merits of the artifact. Brooks notes a further poetical category in which some poems fit, that of disjunction, where one of the key elements of communication are intentionally omitted. For instance, the writer may be a software program, producing poems in some cases without even recording them, entirely unconcerned as to the existence of a reader.
All approaches, the latter excepted, require a certain degree of position and attitude from the reader as well as the writer. It may be that the transactional approach is the one which gives the reader the most say, the most ‘power’ vis-à-vis the writer. Through the cut, the season word, the juxtaposition of images, the disjunction, the reader, responding to the tension(s) created by the writer, contributes to the meaning of the poem, using her own experience, imagination, associations, gut response… In such a scenario, the writer may think she wrote a good enough haiku, but a reader’s reading may make it an exceptional one! Unfortunately, the reverse may be the case, too.
Besides Brooks’ classification scheme, other haiku taxonomies have been developed. For instance, in his essay in Simply Haiku, “An Analysis of Haiku in 12-dimensional Space”, Charles Trumbull discusses a taxonomy of 12 independent dimensions, including: haiku ideology/aesthetics/poetics (Japanese vs. Western); haiku point of view (objective vs. subjective); haiku audience (to be shared vs. self-expression).
Basically, such taxonomies conceive of any haiku/poet as occupying a point in a multi-dimensional space or ‘cloud’ where the dimensions are fundamental, independent variables on which each particular haiku/poet is classified. The distribution of haiku matter in this cloud may be unequal, with sets of haiku/poets forming denser ‘galactic systems’ (FB Communities?) and with sparse matter in the inter-galactic space.
I have brought these two essays here for two reasons: first, to illustrate the importance of having a map – as a reader as well as a writer – to see where one is or where one is heading, especially if one reads poems from different traditions several times a day; and second, to remind us of the many varieties of haiku and of writers and readers.
Understanding the varieties of haiku traditions, experiences, forms, histories, and of our own assumptions only helps us be more open to them, navigate the haiku territories, and accept others’ as well as our own position in them. Also, the map-making may help us identify uncharted territories to be discovered and enjoyed in the haiku cosmos. Let’s boldly go… Or?
Let us know your take in this. How do you ‘read,’ place haiku, if at all? Your favorite maps, cool places to hang out?
“Any poem demands a measure of active participation on the part of the reader, but this is especially true of haiku. With only slight exaggeration it might be said that the haiku poet completes only one half of his poem, leaving the other half to be supplied in the reader’s imagination.”
Half of the poem! This places a huge responsibility on readers’ shoulders. It not only invites us to look more closely into the relationship between the writer and the reader – Brooks addresses this issue in this and other papers; it helps us understand some of the sensitivity haiku writers display towards their readers and reviewers; and raises the mark of how we use our haiku ‘receptors’ to read haiku.
Journal editors have their own personal, professional, and journal-specific list of criteria for “reading” haiku. Seasoned readers too, as Rick’s and Tom’s comments on the last blog post illustrate. But as ‘lay’ readers, this side of the divide, so to speak, what do we use to understand and connect with a haiku? In addition to the individual, general and universally shared perspectives (mentioned in post 1) which help us ‘read’ haiku, might there be an additional tool available to us?
Arguably, any individual perspective the reader – lay or seasoned – might take has a dual, though intrinsically linked aspect: one relating to the mind and one to the heart. Concerning the latter, the question above might be posed differently: do we ‘walk’ with an open heart (rather than mind), open to be touched by the sensitivity or strength of a poem, or do we carry a shield, only allowing certain aspects of the poem in, and not others? For instance, even when appreciating a poem ‘intellectually’, are we allowing its essence, its excellence to touch us? Might the ‘heart’ be our most basic tool?
Michael Dylan Welch reflects on this matter in his essay “Seeing Into the Heart: Vulnerability in Haiku”. Welch understands Bashō, who told haiku poets to learn of the pine from the pine, and of the bamboo from the bamboo, as telling us to be vulnerable to the subjects of our haiku, and
“to humble ourselves so that we might learn something, and speak of it authentically. The full teacup cannot receive more tea, so we must empty ourselves, and become vulnerable, in order to receive.”
I like this: a reader’s open heart responding to the writer’s. Humbling ourselves as readers, recognizing, that is, our limitations, our preferences, perspectives, ideologies, so as to be open to others’ difference.
Here’s how Welch puts it,
“When we click with a poem, it’s because we have let down our guard, allowing our emotions to be affected, feeling what the poet felt. The poet has dared to hint at what he or she has felt, and thus lights a candle, proudly yet vulnerably, against the imminent dark.”
Not an easy task, for both writer and reader, as opening the heart is often experienced as tantamount to undergoing open heart surgery. Yet, once accomplished, may we not deservedly lay claim as readers to our fifty per cent/half of the creation of the poem?
Thinking about it now, I am reminded that several of Henry Moore’s sculptures have a hole in the area of the heart. One can only muse at the openings this allows – and we will come back to this hole later on in the month. For now, the thought: it may well be the case that one needs to have a hole in the heart in order to be — as a reader too — whole.