Sunday, October 26, 2014

Poetic Musings: Broken Moonlight Haiku by Judt Shrode

The brevity of the [haiku] is in fact possible because each poem is implicitly part of a massive, communally shared poem.
-- Haruo Shirane


cold floor . . .
stepping barefoot
on broken moonlight

First Prize, 2014 Francine Porad Award for Haiku

Judt Shrode
             

Commentary by the Judge, John Stevenson:

It is probably not physically painful, stepping on broken moonlight, but this poem suggests pain at a deeper level of sensation. Buson’s famous poem about stepping on his dead wife’s comb, reportedly written while she was very much alive, partakes of this same sensation. The current poem is likely be read by knowledgeable haiku readers as a corollary to Buson.

        Since Buson’s poem seems to have been fictional in some part, we might wonder whether he experienced a physical pain and then created a context in which it would have meaning. Or if he began with the emotion and imagined physical circumstances that would most effectively communicate his feeling. The current poem seems to extend this, saying that because of what Buson accomplished we can take the next step within the context he created. We no longer need the physical pain to invoke or explain the deeper sensations.

        Some may think that it’s wrong for us to presume to put ourselves in the company of Buson or anyone that others have designated as great poets. But this is a mistake. We are all in this together. We are all in this alone. These are not contradictory statements. In fact, they are a single statement. We are alone together. By taking a walk with Buson, this poet seems to put the emphasis on “together” and that is why, for me, it belongs at the top of this list.


... Buson’s famous poem about stepping on his dead wife’s comb, reportedly written while she was very much alive, partakes of this same sensation…Since Buson’s poem seems to have been fictional in some part, we might wonder whether he experienced a physical pain and then created a context in which it would have meaning. Or if he began with the emotion and imagined physical circumstances that would most effectively communicate his feeling...

Even the personal poems can be imaginary.

piercingly cold
stepping on my dead wife's comb
in the bedroom

The opening phrase, mini ni shimu (literally, to penetrate the body), is an autumn phrase that suggests the chill and sense of loneliness that sinks into the body with the arrival of the autumn cold and that here also functions as a metaphor of the poet's feelings following the death of his wife. The poem generates a novelistic scene of the widower, some time after his wife's funeral, accidentally stepping on a comb in the autumn dark, as he is about to go to bed alone. The standard interpretation is that the snapping of the comb in the bedroom brings back memories of their relationship and has erotic overtones. But this is not about direct or personal experience. The fact is that Buson (1706-83) composed this while his wife was alive. Indeed Buson's wife Tomo outlived him by 31 years.

--excerpted from Haruo Shirane’s essay, titled “Beyond the Haiku Moment: Basho, Buson and Modern Haiku Myths,” Modern Haiku, 16:1 Winter/Spring 2000


Some may think that it’s wrong for us to presume to put ourselves in the company of Buson or anyone that others have designated as great poets. But this is a mistake. We are all in this together…

As Haruo Shirane demonstrates in his groundbreaking book Traces of Dreams: Landscape, Cultural Memory, and the Poetry of Basho, Basho believed that “the poet had to work along both axes: to work only in the present would result in poetry that was fleeting; to work just in the past, on the other hand, would be to fall out of touch with the fundamental nature of haikai, which was rooted in the everyday world.” 16 Viewed as a key figure who elevated haikai from an entertaining pastime to a respected poetic form, Basho had developed a set of related poetic ideals widely utilized by his disciples, fellow poets, and successive followers since the mid-1680s. 17 These new ideals were their sincere efforts to deal with the fundamental paradox of the late-seventeenth-century haikai, one “which looked to the past for inspiration and authority and yet rejected it,  which parodied the classical (and Chinese) tradition even as they sought to become part of it, and which paid homage to the ‘ancients’ and yet stressed newness.” 18

-- excerpted from Chen-ou Liu's essay, titled "Make Haibun New through the Chinese Poetic Past: Basho’s Transformation of Haikai Prose, " Simply Haiku, 8:1, Summer 201

2 comments:

  1. Judt Shrode's haiku is one that she struggled with until she succeeded. Even though the form of haiku is brief, the most successful have layers of meaning. The reader is an important part of the success of a haiku. John Stevenson, as the judge, believed that 'cold floor' alluded to Buson's famous haiku, 'piercingly cold,' even though Judt did not associate her haiku with Buson's. Instead, her haiku stemmed from a chilling personal experience. However, this is an example of how many personal or cultural associations can be interpreted for one haiku.

    With Jim Westenhaver, Judt Shrode and I established Commencement Bay Haiku three years ago for haiku poets in the Tacoma area.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Carmen Sterba:

      "The reader is an important part of the success of a haiku"

      The sufficient condition for your statement above is that a haiku in question is a "half-finished" poem where there is space/dreaming room for the reader's (the co-author's) imagination.

      In the case of Judt Shrode's haiku whose textual framework and thematic concern similar to those of Buson's, I think John Stevenson's interpretation helps the reader to get a broader understanding of the poem.

      Thanks for sharing your insightful comment.

      And look forward to reading your work.

      Chen-ou

      Delete