In about five and a half hours, I’ll be hauling myself out of bed and dragging myself to the St. Louis airport. After three days straight of student conferences, there’s a part of me that just wants to curl up in bed and sleep, but for the love of haiku, I’ll do it.
Aforementioned student conferences mean I’m doing a lot of last minute packing (and laundry in order to do packing), getting organized, finalizing presentation ideas, etc. Oh, and a name tag, I still need to make one of those. It’s Seabeck tradition, you know. (No, really. Check them out.)
But coming back to the love of haiku. Friday afternoon I’ll be leading a discussion about haiku as poetry. In some ways, this seems self-evident. Of course haiku is poetry. When someone asks what a haiku is, what do we say? “A short poem that…” “The wordless poem.” “One breath poem.” But we also look at haiku as image, shasei, sketch of life. Not to mention that whole “wordless” part in “the wordless poem.” Most conversations often a divide haiku and everything else poetry (“mainstream poetry,” “Western poetry,” “long form poetry,” whatever you want to call it). So what’s up with that?
Since I’ve started writing and teaching haiku, I’ve heard the same story, with some variation, countless times from new writers: “I’ve never been that into poetry, but then I found haiku.” There seems to be this understanding from the beginning that haiku is different from other poetry. Yet after practicing it for some time, some will branch off into other poetry (I sometimes call haiku a gateway poem). I’m no exception to this. And once I’d dabbled in other poetry, I came back to what I learned from that and put it into my haiku, sometimes bending language and guidelines I wouldn’t have dared to try years before. (For example, there’s a part of me that is absolutely delighted when I can get away with rhyme in haiku. Even though I tell other people when they’re learning not to do it.) One possibility is that this stems from the way some books about how to write haiku have been written. There’s the occasional dogmatic instruction: Do not use simile or metaphor, do not use end rhyme, do not do x, y, or z (that would be okay in other poetry). These instructions are likely in response to early attempts to translate and write haiku using these kinds of poetic devices; they were unsuccessful and often distracted from the moment the haiku was painting. An obvious metaphor or simile suck, regardless the form or genre, but in haiku when there’s so few words to begin with, these sort of errors can lay waste to the poem.
And while there’s always been experimentation and gendai isn’t exactly new, I do feel like there’s been another round of discussion of haiku within these last few years. With publications like Haiku 21 and Disjunctive Dragonfly, some people are trying to make a push toward something different. Whether there is something different for haiku or not is a whole other discussion, but it’s more the fact that people want to have this conversation. For various reasons: They’re bored; they want the larger poetry community to pay attention to haiku; they’re possibly starting to think of haiku as poetry.
In trying to address this, it almost feels like there are two camps. One feels haiku has always been poetry, and of course metaphor and all that other poetic device stuff has always been there, so why are we talking about it? Another hasn’t always seen it, or is just figuring that out (and maybe going off on a few other tangents along the way) and/or is still struggling with dogma. What I’m interested in is the middle. What does it mean to consider haiku as poetry? How does it influence the way we approach haiku as a community and what may that mean for haiku’s reception in the larger poetic community? These are things I’ll be picking the brains of Michael Dylan Welch, John Stevenson, Al Pizzarelli, and Deborah Kolodji about come Friday afternoon.