Bill Waters ~~ Haiku

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Archive for the month “July, 2014”

The wabi-sabi aesthetic

An understanding of wabi and sabi are essential to appreciating the Japanese aesthetics that underlie haiku and tanka. I once read a definition that boiled these concepts down to a mere 5 words each:

  • Wabi: the beauty of imperfection
  • Sabi: the beauty of impermanence

These definitions are a useful shorthand because they cut through the metaphysical “clutter”.

Not all complexity is clutter, though. For a more nuanced description of these terms, I offer the following passage from a charming little book called Wabi Sabi: The Art of Everyday Life, by Diane Durston:

Wabi has been defined variously in English as: tranquil simplicity; austere elegance; unpolished, imperfect, or irregular beauty; rusticity; things in their simplest, most austere, and natural state; a serene, transcendental state of mind.

Likewise, sabi has been interpreted as the beauty that treasures the passage of time, and with it the lonely sense of impermanence it evokes. It has also been defined as the patina that age bestows, or as that which is true to the natural cycle of birth and death. (Preface, page xi.)

Writers more experienced than me can be quite decisive about what has wabi-sabi and what doesn’t. Me? Even with these excellent definitions, I’m not 100% sure, so I tend to look for wabi-sabi in everything. I may not find it, but I start from the position that it may be there, if only I study an object with enough thought and insight.

 

wabi? sabi?

I scratch my head

and eat some wasabi

*   *   *

Weathered bricks

flaming ochre, burnt orange —

weathered bricks

in a worn-out wall

Brick Wall, by Jennifer Thompson

Photo (c) Jennifer Thompson.

  *  *  *

You tug at my heart

you tug at my heart

the way the moon

tugs at the tides . . .

how many days

till I see you again?

*  *  *

Pond at noon . . .

pond at noon . . .

the shiny dragonfly

hovering above it

*   *   *

When is a haiku not a haiku? (part 1)

When it’s a senryu! Although haiku and senryu are closely related, distinguishing between them can be tricky.

In an earlier blog entry, I posted the following poem: cricket lullaby — / cicada soprano / makes her shrill debut. I’ve always thought of it as a haiku, but might it actually be a senryu? Well…that depends on who you ask.

Over the years, I’ve come across a number of simple formulas that would supposedly help a reader tell haiku from senryu. Here are three of them:

  • If it’s serious, it’s haiku. If it’s funny, it’s senryu.
  • If it has no people in it, it’s haiku. If it has people in it, it’s senryu.
  • If it’s about nature, it’s haiku. If it’s about human nature, it’s senryu.

By these tests, “cicada soprano” is senryu (funny), haiku (has no people in it), and both (about nature, but implicitly about human nature too)!

The problem is…

The problem is that the formulas, though well-meaning, frame aspects of haiku and senryu as direct opposites, when in practice those aspects overlap. Either poetic form may display humor (playfully, in haiku; ironically, in senryu); either may have people in them (as a part of nature, in haiku; as apart from nature, in senryu); and either may reference human nature (in a secondary or implied capacity, in haiku; front-and-center, in senryu).

If good fences make good neighbors, then haiku and senryu are difficult neighbors indeed, since the boundaries between the two forms — so concrete when viewed from a distance — are blurry when looked at up close.

Plan B: agree to disagree

Yes, distinguishing between haiku and senryu can be tricky, and even experts on the subject are not in universal agreement about specific distinctions between the two forms. For myself, I’ve chosen to use as a touchstone a broad definition put forward by Michael Dylan Welch, a renowned figure in Japanese short-form poetry, who boils it down to mainly a matter of tone and intent.

[I]t is usually tone that differentiates haiku and senryu. Haiku tend to celebrate their subjects (even if dark), whereas senryu tend to have a ‘victim,’ and may or may not be humourous. Haiku typically treat their subjects reverently, whereas senryu do so irreverently. Haiku try to make a feeling, and senryu try to make a point. And if haiku is a finger pointing to the moon, senryu is a finger poking you in the ribs. (http://bit.ly/1rEjAim)

“Cicada soprano”, therefore, is, by this definition, a senryu. I’m totally convinced of it…I think.

*   *   *

Issa: got nectar?

Old Pond Comics: Got Nectar?

Comic (c) Jessica Tremblay (http://bit.ly/1rKYwt3)

*   *   *

Even the trash man!

even the trash man!

he works one-handed

while talking on his cell

*   *   *

Crickets

by the mown field

we take a walk

before bed . . .

crickets, sweet crickets,

I’ll hear them in my dreams

*  *  *

Striding into the future!

striding into the future!

bulky bronze fabric

ripples in the wind

Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, by Umberto Boccioni

Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, 1913, Umberto Boccioni. Photo courtesy of Wmpearl via Wikimedia Commons (bit.ly/1juCurV).

 *  *  *

Dewdrop

down, down

the evergreen bough:

this dewdrop


Posted to the Facebook poetry-writing group seize the poem, 7/13/14.

*  *  *

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