Spontaneous Poetics – (A Brief Survey of Haiku)

This [Allen hands out a home-made xerox-ed collection] is a little anthology of choice haiku taken from the four-volume set of haiku in the library collected by R.H.BlythSpring, Summer, Winter, Autumn. How many have looked into that, or know that collection? It’s a collection that (Jack) Kerouac used and Gary Snyder and Philip Whalen all used as a sort of poetics reference encyclopedia handbook inspiration text around 1955. I was reading haiku, then, in those books and chose the best ones, or the ones that stuck in my head, about twenty or thirty, so I’ll read them off. The point is that they are related to the activities of Ezra Pound and Willam Carlos Williams and the Imagists and the Objectivists in the American tradition. At least, they are trying to notate what’s seen where the eye hits an object – sight, which is where (the eye) hits an object, at least trying to work with material that’s palpable, not eliminating the impalpable or subjective sensation but making use of palpable images to suggest “Unspeakable (Thou Bridge) to Thee, O Love”, or at least (the) “unspeakable”. Or maybe not bothering to worry whether it’s “unspeakable” or not, but they’re accepting the evidence of their senses and working with what’s there (which is a problem for many of the poets here also, of working with the evidence of the senses, or working with direct perception. So these are pretty good exercises.”On the low-tide beach/ Everything we pick up/ Moves” – “Tilling the field/ The cloud that never moved/ Is gone” – Buson – “Bringing them up/ They call the silk-worms/ Master” – That’s Issa. Issa’s very similar to William Carlos Williams in subjective personal humoresque style.

The uguisu. The uguisu is very traditional in Japanese haiku furniture. It has a familiar cry and is a familiar image in almost all traditional haiku – “Its first note/ The uguisu/ Is upside-down” – “The uguisu/ Poops on the/ Slender plum-branch” – Matsuo – “Ah! the uguisu pooped/On the rice-cake/On the veranda” – or “Ah! the sparrow shat/On the rice-cake/ On the veranda” would be the equivalent. That’s Basho, celebrated classicist. “It was such a fine first dream” – this is for New Year’s day, a genre of New Year’s Day haiku – “It was such a fine first dream/ They said/ I’d made it up” – “The first drink of the year/ I kept it secret/ And smiled to myself” – “A swallow/ Flew out of the nose/ Of the Great Buddha” – that’s Issa again – Then, here’s a whole series – “Taking the field/ He wipes his snotty hand/ On the plum flowers” – that’s also Issa. And Basho’s presentation of the same – “The sound of someone/Blowing his nose with his hand/ The plum blossoms at their best” – I guess to wipe off your snot! -“The moon and flowers/ Forty-nine years walking about/ Wasting time” – Issa again – “A frog/ Floating in the water-jar/ Summer rain” – Outside on the porch, a big jar of water, a frog got in by mistake, floating around, can’t get out. It was presumably dry and then it got rained on – “Frog/ Floating in the water-jar/ Rains of Summer” – “Summer rain/ A crab crawling out/ Of the stone wash-basin” – “Rains of May/ Here’s a paper parcel/ Entrusted to me long ago”

My idea of haiku is, actually, “”Rains of May/ Here’s a paper parcel” – two disparate images, or two separated images, or two images that wouldn’t necessarily have any logical connection, except that they’re both noticed one after another, and the haiku artist noticed his mind noticing both in that sequence and wrote it down, not necessarily knowing why they were linked, or why they had a mysterious perfume when linked, or why they made a little flash in the mind when they were linked, but it’s like setting up two – a positive and a negative – poles, and (observing) a little spark, (a) lightning-flash between. “Lightning flash/ flint spark” – that’s Philip Whalen- “Lightning flash/ flint spark”. The “Rains of May” – so, rainy day, somebody sitting brooding about time. “Here’s a paper parcel/ Entrusted to me long ago” – somebody’s old Kerouac novel, or his mother’s autobiography, or the bills of landing for an old opium deal that everyone got busted for – “Rains of May/ Here’s a paper parcel/ Entrusted to me long ago”

Student: Did you write that?

AG: No, no, that’s Sampu – “On rainy days/ The monk Ryokan/Feels sorry for himself” – So your own subjective can also be part of the subject-matter objectively. In other words, if you see your thoughts or your moods as an object, like “Rains of May” – “I’m feeling sorry for myself” – then you can include that in the poem too. It isn’t that you are eliminating subjectivity by taking an objective look at all phenomena and putting two details together – a detail of the entire field – “The monk Ryokan/ I’m feeling sorry for myself on a rainy day”. He’s looking at himself as an object – “The monk Ryokan feels sorry for himself” – by Ryokan – “Naked/On a naked horse/ Through the summer rain” – At that time, (19)55, I wrote a little comment on that – “On my porch/ In my shorts/Auto-lights in the rain” – What I got out of that was porch in the shorts/auto-lights in the rain, there’s a creation of space, actually.

I was talking about haiku earlier with..(friends), going through these. A lot of the haiku seem to parallel the aesthetic intention of Paul Cezanne, painter, who spoke in his letters, (to Emile Bernard I think), of, by means of triangles, cubes, squares (pre-Cubist method) creating planes on the canvases that he painted by means of hot colors advancing and cold colors receding optically, creating what he called “petite sensation“, the little sensation, of space, which he defined as none other than Pater Omnipotens Aeterne. So, space as God, space itself as God and Father Omnipotent, Eternal God. Cezanne said, “I’ve got my little sensation. I’m getting older and older but I’m not like those other coarse people who haven’t refined their senses. I’m refining my senses till I get a clearer and clearer realization of my petite sensation (my little sensation) of space which is none other than God.” And he does on his canvas, if you look at them – there’s a space created by the geometrical forms set next to each other with the colors advancing and receding without a narrative reliance on perspective lines. In other words, to get space he didn’t use perspective lines, he just used colors advancing and receding, and brush-strokes, and building up his forms with geometrical solid figures and making the geometric solids out of the hot and cold colors advancing and retreating. So, in that sense, the haiku also creates the impression of the “little sensation” of vast space. “One end hanging/Over the mountain/The Milky Way” (that’s Shiki). Another Shiki – “A flash of lightning/ Between the trees of the forest/ Water appears. Also Shiki – “Coming out of the water/ The wind blows on the nipples/ Cooling on the veranda” – “The wind blows on the nipples” – well, that’s not space, that’s just Vipassana detail – “Fleas lice/ The horse pissing/Near my pillow” – So he’s got a whole novel there. He’s traveling. He’s going through poetic situations as a beatnik in Japan – the horse pissing near his pillow, sleeping out in the stable, out on a voyage – “In the corner of the old wall/ Motionless/ The pregnant spider” – Shiki – which reminds me of (Jack) Kerouac’s great haiku – “In my medicine cabinet/ The Winter fly/ Has died of old age” – “How admirable!/ He who doesn’t think “Life is fleeting”/ When he sees the lightning-flash” – “How admirable!/ He who doesn’t think “Life is fleeting”/ When he sees the lightning-flash” – So that actually creates a funny space. By removing language, by suggesting a space without language and without mirrored self-conscious comment, it conjures up an odd actual lightning-flash space – “I am in Kyoto/ Yet at the voice of hotogisu/ Longing for Kyoto – hotogisu, another traditional haiku bird. So I wrote a poem following that – “Back on Times Square, Dreaming of Times Square” – “Everything is going well in the world/ Let another fly/ Come on the rice” – Issa again. Now that’s Williams-esque – sort of. That’s a little bit like Williams’ poem going up his front porch and seeing his children smiling and happy to see him, on the stoop, and his heart sinking, and he says, “Why is it I want to kill my children?!” – Objectifying his mood. Yeah, that is, seeing the humor of his mood, seeing his mood as an object

– “Oh snail/ Climb Mount Fuji/ But slowly, slowly!” – Issa again. That was almost the best exemplification of one object set beside another object to create space. That little snail on Mount Fuji – Fuji’s giant curve – Here’s a kind of a weird one [to student] – I thought your little poem about the chrome..

Student: Green

AG: ..chrome-green glint of the..

Student: “The cat’s eyes/ Flash/ Chrome-green”

AG: “The cat’s eyes/ Flash/ Chrome-green” – “The snake slid away/ But the eyes that glared at me/ Remained in the grass” – That’s kind of mysterious – “Through the back door/ The bamboo-grove is reflected/ In the cold broth” – He’s holding a cup of cold broth, stillness. So it’s still enough. He must have been holding it a little while for the surface to settle, and thinking, and thinking of drinking it, and then came into present consciousness of the space in which he was sitting, still and silent, then maybe looked back at the broth and saw the bamboo-grove reflected in the surface of the cold broth through the door behind him. “Through the back door” – through the back door, no less. You get more than enough detail for an entire hut, for an entire universe – “Through the back door/ The bamboo-grove is reflected/ In the cold broth’ – “The old man/ Has a marvelous sickle/ For cutting barley” – which is like a good Gary Snyder naturalistic line, or Ezra Pound appreciation of non-usurious arts and crafts. What you have there is just a little noticing – “That guy has a marvelous sickle. He’s been working at it for years. He’s got the sickle perfect. He’s a real barley-cutting champion” – “The old man/ Has a marvelous sickle/ For cutting barley” – “The old man/ Has a marvelous cock/ In bed” is my 1955 comment on that – Buson – “Weeping over my umbilical cord/ In my natal place/ At the end of the year” – Like a New Year’s haiku, or a year-end haiku – “This dew-drop world/ It may be a dew-drop/ And yet, and yet” – Issa – “The moon in the water/ Turned a somersault/ And floated away” – That’s unfair. Because he’s turned a little Surrealist trick there – “The bright moon..” (this is a 20th Century one, I think) – “The bright moon/ No dark place/ to empty the ashtray” – (which is a real good comment on consciousness. Last night (Chogyam) Trungpa was talking about the painfulness of an awareness that has no hiding place, where everything is revealed, where there are no corners cut, and where there are no shadows unseen, where no events (go) unnoticed – “The bright moon/ No dark place/ To empty the ashtray”

– Basho… ah yes, and the one that I thought the greatest Basho, creating space again. The famous one of Basho – “An old pond/Kerplunk! (or, the Japanese word would be the sound of a frog jumping in(to) water, like the English “kerplunk” might be) – An old frog. The sound of water jumped into by a frog, but “an old frog/ kerplunk”, is considered the most famous of all haiku, because it suggests an entire situation of someone meditating, practicing zazen, total silence, sitting by an old frog-bordered pond, old frog-bordered pond, complete silence, everything at rest, complete stillness, all of a sudden, “splash!” (either in the mind or in the phenomenal world) – creation – Also by Basho – the one I thought was best for space, for the creation of the petit sensation of space – “A wild sea/ And stretching out towards the island of Sado/ The Milky Way” – So you’ve got a fantastic panoramic, visionary Japanese painting there – “A wild sea/ And stretching out towards the island of Sado/ The Milky Way”

– “A full moon/ A man-servant/ Leaving the puppy to die” – “The bright Autumn moon/ Crying in the saucepan/ The pond snails” – “Crying in the saucepan”, that’s nice – “The autumn wind/ There are thoughts/ In the mind of Issa” – And back again. I thought that was the best you could get, in a way, as far as reconciling subjective and objective. Reconciling the big argument – “How subjective can you get in poetry?” – Issa there is referring to himself directly and using himself as a subject, but in doing so, by treating himself as if he was a puppy left out to die in the moonlight – “These are thoughts/ In the mind of Issa” – It gets romantic – Basho – “Shake oh tomb/My weeping voice/ Is the wind of autumn” – that’s very operatic! – “The bright autumn moon/ Sea lice/ Running over the stones” – “Baby mice in their nest/ Squeak in response. To the young sparrows” – So you have baby mice down on the floor in their nest and sparrows cheeping in their nest above, (presumably in the eaves), squeak, squeak, and the little mice answering, and a man silent enough to hear both and notice both. “Baby mice in their nest/ Squeak in response. To the young sparrows” – That may be the most perfect in terms of disparate noticings, or two images, or two separate facts, set side-by-side to conjure up (the) usually “unspeakable”, but nonetheless logical, relationship. In this case, a direct communication between the mice and the sparrows, except there’s also a gap in there. There’s a gap of space, like the sunyata void gap, because, do the sparrows hear the mice? The mice are mistakenly thinking it’s other mice maybe? Or, at any rate, it’s something to figure out – whether the mice are communicating to the sparrows, or whether they’re just squawking in the void, hearing another sound from the other end of the void (but there’s a lot of void-space in-between the two of them, and a great desolation, actually) – “The festival of the weaver/ One is writing a poem/ The other leans toward him” – Two guys writing poems and watching each other. It’s like a painting, that – “Harvest sparrows/ Shot by the arrow of the scarcecrow/ They fall into the sea” – “Picked up on a pilgrimage/ And put together/ A scarecrow” – “In this fleeting world/ The scarecrow also/ Has eyes and a nose” – That’s a good one. Actually, that does conjure up the empty space of the skull (or, comparing the scarecrow’s anatman, lack of identity, lack of self, or, comparing human lack of identity, lack of soul, lack of a self, ultimately). “In this fleeting world”, the scarecrow also has an appearance of identity – “The scarecrow also/ Has eyes and a nose” – “The autumn tempest/ Blows along even/Wild boars” – So he didn’t say “Big strong mighty autumn tempest”, he actually gave a demonstration of the autumn tempest – “The autumn tempest/ Blows along even/Wild boars” – “The morning glows/ In the faces of men/ There are faults” – Issa – “Issa alone I said/ He wrote it down in the register/ How chilly the autumn night” – “The maiden flower/ Stands there/ Vacantly” – More Issa, that was.. “Not a single stone/ To throw at the dog./ The Winter moon” – So frozen the ground that not even a single stone could be picked up – “A hundred different gourds/ From the mind/ Of one vine” – That would be an earlier Buddhist notion – Yogacara Buddhism believed in one mind. That was before Madhyamaka Buddhism which destroyed the notion of any kind of mind at all. Second century A.D. they got hip to that fact, that it was completely empty – “The maiden flower/ Stands there/ Vacantly” – Issa – “Night/ Biting the frozen brush/ With the remaining tooth” – Buson, that – “Examining/Three-thousand haiku/ Two persimmons” – A persimmon puckers your mouth, as a haiku might pucker your mind. “Examing/ Three-thousand haiku..” – he’s a judge in a haiku contest – Shiki – This is a haiku by a judge in a haiku contest – “Examining/Three-thousand haiku/ Two persimmons” – “Ill on a journey/ My dreams wander/Over a withered moor” – That’s Basho’s death-verse, his last haiku – “Ill on a journey/ My dreams wander/Over a withered moor” – “The tern alights..” – a bird – “The tern alights..” – I guess it’s a boat, a moon-viewing party or something, they’re out on the lake. This is Issa again – “The tern alights/ Various sorts of nitwits/ On a moonlit evening” – That’s like Kerouac a little, that humor – Issa. My favorite haiku of Issa is in Japanese – “naki haha ya umi miru tabi ni miru tabi ni” – “naki haha ya umi miru tabi ni miru tabi ni” (and (a) literal translation – “Dead momma/ Oh/ Ocean see time at” – and the Blyth translation – “Whenever I see the ocean/ Whenever I see it/ Oh, my mother” – or “Oh momma/ Whenever I see the ocean/ Whenever I see the ocean” – “naki haha ya umi miru tabi ni miru tabi ni” – There was one that created a great deal of space that I missed somewhere here. Like that one (that) end(s) “hanging over the mountain/ The Milky Way”…let’s see if I can find the exact one here.. [Allen consults his selection of haiku] – Oh, the cow! – More Issa – “The cow comes/Moo-moo/ Out of the mists” – That’s like a movie, the beginning of a movie, the cow coming “Moo-moo” – Issa – Just three short lines – “The cow comes/Moo-moo/ Out of the mists” – Basho – “The octopuses in the jars/ Transient dreams/ Under the summer moon”

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