Thursday, November 7, 2013

Poetic Musings: A Gendai Haiku about the Text Horizon by kjmunro

Excellent haiku evoke coherence beyond the text horizon -- Richard Gilbert

when my gendai world was flat I kept falling off
                                                                                           the text horizon

Notes from the Gean,  19,  May 2013

kjmunro's brilliantly crafted meta-haiku makes me LOL!!!

First of all, in the haiku, kjmunro successfully alludes to the myth of the flat earth:

The Flat Earth model is an archaic belief that the Earth's shape is a plane or disk. Many ancient cultures have had conceptions of a flat Earth, including Greece until the classical period, the Bronze Age and Iron Age civilizations of the Near East until the Hellenistic period, India until the Gupta period (early centuries AD) and China until the 17th century...

-- excerpted from the Wikipedia entry, “Flat Earth.”

Please stretch your imagination when reading gendai haiku.

Secondly, an analogy is subtly established between the archaic world of the flat earth and the interpretative realm of gendai haiku.

Haiku can be greatly enhanced by the skillful use of figurative language.

Thirdly, her haiku extends the idea of kireji (cutting word) past the breaking point to create a broken-off fragment (“the text horizon”) -- the concrete disjunction pulls the image/line fragment back into the poem. Her placement of the poem is thematically and emotionally effective.

It's time to reexamine the concept and practice of cutting. Below is a relevant excerpt from my “To the Lighthouse” post, titled “Re-examining the Concept and Practice of Cutting:”

Most English-speaking haiku poets understand a cut as a syntactic break through the use of punctuation. This view produces, comparatively speaking, weaker haiku (at best, “postcard” haiku or “aha” haiku). For me, a good haiku, evaluated in the historical and literary contexts of the English language haiku (with no abiding kigo tradition) and of modern poetry (with an emphasis on psychological depth and the poetic image), is an imagistic poem with a psychological bent, opening up an interpretative space for the reader to co-author the poem. This type of haiku can be easily found in the ones with psychological “ma” advocated by Professor Hasegawa Kai, who, in my view, has been articulating a new/the fourth view on the use of cutting/cutting words.

For more information about cutting and examples, see  my “To the Lighthouse” posts, “Three Formulations about the Use of Cutting” (in the classic Japanese haiku tradition), “Cutting through Time and Space” (new/the fourth formulation about the use of cutting), and  “Re-examining the Concept and Practice of Cutting” (in the English language haiku tradition).

Fourthly, the use of the past tense indicates that the interpretative earth of gendai haiku where the speaker now lives is spherical.

A good haiku is not just about a moment of “Aha”/”Satori” (enlightenment, wonder,, but also depends on the thematically and emotionally effective use of verb tenses to deepen or enrich the poem.

Finally, most gendai haiku in English language haiku-related journals were published without any mention (not to mention “discussion”) of haiku techniques employed in the poems. They mainly revealed editorial/personal “aesthetic taste” or thematic preference.

It’s time to have a serious discussion on the “quality” of English language gendai haiku and the effectiveness of haiku techniques employed in the poems.

In my view, Paul Miller's Frogpond essay, entitled “Haiku's American Frontier,” serves well as a starting point for thoughts. Below are some good examples from his essay:

Over the last several years we’ve been made aware of a very different movement in Japanese haiku: gendai haiku, which literally means “modern” in Japanese. It is a movement that is not just modern in terms of timing, but also in style and content. An example below is by Sayu Togo [2]. Surprisingly, despite its modern-to-us tone, it is nearly eighty years old!

The face of a toad
 enters the dream
 of a typhoid patient


Compare Basho’s poem in which a crow landed on a branch, to this poem by Sanki Saito. [21]

Autumn sunset --
bones of a gigantic fish
 drawn into the sea

The color of the sunset reflected in the water, and perhaps staining the clouds, shrinking to a singularity -- juxtaposed with a hardness of bone; the bones of a giant, dead fish -- is a wonderfully imaginative metaphor.


Haiku have their origin in renku, a party game, where one poet links to another poet’s verse. The result is a larger public poem. “Public” is a key word in regards to haiku. Haiku have always been about sharing. Additionally, there is the notion that haiku are supposed to be completed by the reader, so we would expect all the information needed to understand a poem to be available in the poem. Yet some poems resist understanding. An example from Yasumasa Soda: [42]

When the frozen butterfly
 finally reaches its end:
 a hundred towers

I can visualize a migrating butterfly arriving somewhere. I can even visualize a hundred towers. But how do those parts relate? (Note: the ART of juxtaposition is the art of cutting and JOINING; for more information, see Chapter 4, titled “The Art of Juxtaposition: Cutting and Joining,” of Traces of Dreams Traces of Dreams Landscape, Cultural Memory, and the Poetry of Basho by Haruo Shirane, a chapter that “examines the dynamics of textual juxtaposition and the different kinds of links -- homophonic, metonymic, and metaphoric -- that lie at the heart of Basho's haikai,” pp. 23-4) I appreciate the need to express individualism, and from the pro side of the pro/con list, that can create unique images and ideas. We want poets to feel free to go in any direction they choose. We want to be exposed to fresh images and perspectives, but I think it’s fair for poets to feel restricted by certain traditions. While this is an exciting move, and really... really frees a poet up, is that freedom at the expense of sharing?


  1. Reply from kjmunro:

    It was inspired by a quote in the essay 'Song of Himself' by Scott Mason (Frogpond 35:2 - 2012) - "Excellent haiku evoke coherence beyond the text horizon." - Dr. Richard Gilbert

  2. haiku or Haiku
    Japanese tradition stands
    Cherry blossoms fall

    haiku 5-7-5

    1. Hi! Myrockopera:

      I like your meta-haiku, and wonder if haiku or hokku as L1 might work better.

      Just a thought for you to use or lose.


  3. Chen-ou. Thank you so much for your gracious suggestion. I have taken it into consideration and tried the haiku with hokku in the first line which is fitting. I have composed this poem in a combination of Japanese and English, as well as English keeping the 5-7-5 syllobic cadence. It seems to flow well.

    Much appreciated
    Steve Baldwin

  4. Hokku or haiku
    Nipponjin dentõ tatsu
    Cheri hona fall

    haiku 5-7-5 Japanese with English

  5. Hokku or haiku
    Nipponjin dentõ tatsu

    haiku / Japanese with English

    1. Steve:

      I've learned something new. Thanks for sharing.


  6. I read Soda's frozen butterfly as coming out of metamorphosis. It is frozen in chrysalis, but by the time its life ends it will have visited 100 flowers.

    1. One more comment:

      This type of connection is what Basho had stressed and employed in his writing -- the scent link (for more info., see Chapter 4, titled “The Art of Juxtaposition: Cutting and Joining,” of Traces of Dreams Traces of Dreams Landscape, Cultural Memory, and the Poetry of Basho by Haruo Shirane)

  7. Hi! Tzod Earf:

    you meant 'towers' ?

    As I emphasized in my comment on the art of jux. I don't see any connection between the two parts of Yasumasa Soda's haiku; therefore, I view this poem mainly as an unrhymed tercet.

    The effective use of jux is the soul of haiku composition.


  8. I'm glad you reposted this on Twitter. I interpreted towers as flowers, trying to see from a butterfly's perspective. I fall victim to the need to make sense of things. It could be, I like this poem because I like my understanding of it (vanity). After a second reading, I have revised that. I'm sticking with the transformation, but the end of coming out of the frozen state is a beginning of new life, flight, and 100 towers/flowers.