On The Composition of Haiku

Heaven-Earth-Man Calligraphy

continued from yesterday,   1980 Naropa classroom –  Student is refering to another student’s writing that Allen has just analyzed

Student:  For a while there, it seeemed like, like she was saying, it seemed like,  I don’t know how many syllables there were, but they seemed they were pared down, to the length of haiku,  almost

AG: The way she did it? – Yeah.  Yeah, but it didn’t work. It was sort of like awkward haiku(s) and no single one of them made a big deal except maybe, “the rhythmic twang of the steel cord slapping against the flagpole”,  and even that wasn’t quite complete. It needed  “the lights of the courtyard”  to go on to complete that. In other words, a haiku‘s got some kind of little punch, or some little firecracker, in it and though, ”the rhythmic twang of the steel cord slapping against the flagpole” is quite vivid,  it doesn’t complete.

Student; The haiku‘s supposed to combine the thought and the reality in the last line.

AG: Yes, a haiku combines thought and reality, I must write that down.  Sure… now, what were you saying. tho?

Student: What?

AG: What were you saying?

Student; Oh, I forget – wasn’t the haiku supposed to bind, something like that?

AG: Well, maybe two things, at least,  or maybe three, that, when they come together, cause a little  pop.  So that the…  like, “the steel cords twanging rhythmically against the flagpole’ – that gives you that one thing but it’s not related to anything else, and so it’s just vivid but not knocks you out, but then, if you connect with “the lights suddenly all go on together in the courtyard”, it means it’s dusk, it’s a windy dusk, (in some official place where there’s a big flagpole with steel cords even, which is rare), so you suddenly get a whole place and time and space, not just this isolated vivid image of the flagpole by itself , and not just the lights going on (so what? yeah, they go on in the dusk), but,  if you get that silent, solitary, lonely sound-of-one-hand-clapping, (which is the flagpole by itself), and the silent, solitary, noisy solitary, flagpole, and the silent solitary sound-of-one-hand-clapping of the lights going on, then you have two hands, sort of, clapping, you get a double thing. And then, if you add on that.. “Where’s my mother?”,  you really get, you get knocked out then, because, you know, “Where’s my dead mother?”, “Where’s my mother’s hair?’, “Where;’s my mother’s hair?'”.  And so the “rhythmic twang of the steel cord slapping against the flagpole”.. no, “the rhythmic”, I heard “the rhythmic twang”  – “Hearing the rhythmic twang of the steel cord slapping against the flagpole, as the row of lights suddenly went on in the courtyard,               I wondered, “Where’s my mother’s hair?”  – So, then it sort of knocks you out, it’s got something weird going (on), no, okay, it’s got somethinng extensive going in a lot of different directions, rather than just one little spot.

Peter Orlovsky. She’s got skis in there, walking with ski-shoes. She must be up in the mountains?

AG:  Yeah

Peter Orlovsky: ..when you’re trying to locate it.

AG: Yeah. Yeah, in her original,  she has two other things. She has two women doing different things, and the pink sky lighting up their faces at dusk.

Well, we’re just talking about what you need to get a haiku. There’s been some discussion of that. I always used to think you needed two things at least, two poles, and then the mind connects them, like “When I turned around/ my behind was covered with cherry-blossoms” –  (I wrote that in 1956 and (Jack) Kerouac thought that was great  – “When I looked around/my behind was covered/with cherry blossoms”  [Looking over my shoulder/my behind…..] – Well, that’s just two things, a guy looks behind and there’s cherry blossoms. So I always thought it was two things, or, “O ant, climb up Mount Fuji/, but slowly, slowly“. – So you get. just this picture of Mount Fuji and a little tiny ant [little snail]  on it, and then the guy saying “slowly!” –  So I used to… (I) thought it was, like, two poles, and the electricity shot between them and (that) gave you a little flash of the mind, dig? – But then, about two years ago, (Chogyam) Trungpa (Rinpoche) came into class when we were discussing it and he suggested an old Chinese trick. which was three  – that, first, you had a big flash (like, you know.. or. he said one flash that would include the sky or enormous space – like the flagpole (sic)) – then, you have to connect it  down to earth, with what’s going on, and locate it for real – (like “the lights go on in the courtyard”). So, it’d be heaven and earth – (or flash and then recognition). Heaven and Earth, or, in psychological terms – flash of where you’re at, where it all is, waking up, waking up to the scene, then a recognition of what the scene is – And then your human comment – (“Where’s my mother’s hair?”) –

I was constructing that according to Trungpa’s recipe when I was doing that before. It was the Heaven-Earth-Man principle of Taoism or Confucianism, the idea that each thought in the head, actually.. First, like, you daydream, and then you wake up, and there’s.. students with a lot of hair on their head! ,.and then, “Oh, I’m sitting at the desk, explaining Chinese!”  – And then,.. So that’s first flash, and then recognition (“Yes, I’m sitting at the desk, talking Chinese”) ,and then the human common, the man..  (“wearing my private-school blazer, no less!”)

I was just doing what came instantaneously to mind to show you how these categories, Heaven-Earth-Man, or flash-recognition and comment, (or after-thought), apply to the actual process of thinking, while it’s going on – that maybe each moment when you wake up and look around, you go through these three stages. like, look at a baby, you know, it looks up, looks around, and goes “aaagh!”, you know, one-two-three, a one-two-three reaction, like, as if it maybe that every single thought form that rises in the mind first is “galumph” and then “errr” – then “aaagh!”.  So there’s a whole series of those constantly going on. Like, you know,  “1937, the dentist came the to my door,/ always accusing me of stealing the tiles/, that dirty rat!” – It’s just like three stages, you remember something and then you remember what it was, and then you say, “oh, after all these years…”  So, each thought, maybe, has three parts.

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately twenty-nine minutes in and concluding at approximately thirty-seven minutes in]

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