When reading haiku, what is it that attracts you as a reader? What makes you click with one poem and leaves you indifferent towards another? Which qualities speak to you?
Might one draw a parallel between ‘picking’ haiku and beachcombing? Let’s take as an example Henry Moore, the English sculptor (1898-1986). Moore, famous for his monumental semi-abstract sculptures dotted in the landscape all around the world, was inspired by nature. During his walks, he collected stones, shells, driftwood, animal bones, rocks, that he brought back to his studio and kept for inspiration. Some of these ‘found’ objects were singled out as art objects by his artist’s eye, and transformed into works of art. Others became favorite objects to go back to with new questions, kept for inspiration. Like a super-spectator, super-audience or super-reader, he saw the value(s) residing in the shapes, form of sticks, rocks, and stones, picked them up and brought them in from the cold world into his art studio.
In a sense, as writers, we have something in common with Moore and his walks. Through the day, we gather experiences, pick up some in words, discard or ignore others. As readers too, we collect from our walks round the social medialand, from our reading journals and books, from our discussing topics, poetic thoughts or experiences, from the walks in nature and through the cityscapes surrounding us.
From another perspective, appreciating haiku as a crafted, rather than a natural, object may be more akin to appreciating paintings or sculptures on a gallery visit. Works of art hang on gallery walls, are placed in gallery rooms – like haiku sit on the pages of journals and books – for us to observe and mull over; we stand in front of them, around them for a short while, then move on and walk through the rooms – pages – quickly, too quickly often.
Henry Moore’s huge sculptures standing tall or reclining in the landscape demand our attention; whether we see perfection in them or the unruly shapes of our innermost selves, something in them appeals to us as viewers. And while we cannot pick them up physically, they come home with us. So it is with haiku, I believe. Which one speaks to us, creates a reaction in us, which one we pick to remember, to give it a home in our hearts, depends on many factors.
Something in it, in its shape, depth, sensory and sensual appeal resonates with us. There is a personal, familial, local, national, global, colonial, post-colonial, feminist, literary, yet to be named perspective(s) each of us carries, treasures, contributes to and responds with to the world. Often more than one. Hopefully more than one. Naturally, we all differ in our perspectives, ideologies, in our poems, in our choices of haiku.
But there are common, global elements too; essences, values, basics we share as humans that hold together a haiku and bring it to our reader’s eyes fresh from beyond culture, history, limiting perspectives and allegiances. And with our global, in addition to our local, receptors – much like the single neurons and neuronal assemblies we all harbor in the perceptual parts of our brains, each tuned to picking single elements or whole configurations – we are able to pick and enjoy those poems too. Jim Kacian, in his essay “Tapping the Common Well” in Bones: journal for contemporary haiku, while considering what it is about the haiku poem’s universality, points out this extra or underlying dimension:
“It is universal, because what it seeks is not the relative truths of nationalities or religions, but the universal truths between people: that which can be shared, recognized, valued around the world. This does not mean rain and sun mean the same thing to all people: certainly desert-dwellers have very different emotions about such things than those who live in a rain forest… There are always points of view. But haiku express values beyond these regional and economic differences, revealing the truth of things as they are, which is more at the core of how we feel most deeply as people. Haiku finds that which is not superfluous in the hearts of men, and expresses the values found there, as deep as that may go.”
And so in our lives as readers, as well as writers, armed or rather blessed with a variety of sensory and psychological receptors – some uniquely personal, others shared by the whole species – we pick poems that offer us the chance to recognize, come to terms with, or celebrate one moment from the river of our experience, one splinter from the tree of our lives; to reconnect with our humanity and to nourish our being.
So which haiku ‘receptors’ do you use? How do you like your haiku? Let us know here. It would be good to hear your take on this.
Kacian, Jim: Tapping the Common Well, in Bones: journal for contemporary haiku, Issue 1, December 15, 2012.
This essay was first posted here