Archive for April 4th, 2010


Jumping with Sensation: The Haiku Leap

who dreamt and made incarnate gaps in Time & Space through images juxtaposed, and trapped the archangel of the soul between 2 visual images and joined the elemental verbs and set the noun and dash of consciousness together jumping with sensation of Pater Omnipotens Aeterna Deus

That line is from Ginsberg’s Howl. That’s a good description of how a poem moves, especially a haiku. The “jumping with sensation” is a good description of the line break, too. For me, that’s the only place in my life that I can perform a leap of faith. This leap, as I’ve been thinking recently, is best exemplified in haiku, especially from line two to three.

In a good haiku,
there is a nighttime of dreams
between lines two and three.

I wrote that recently to describe what I have been thinking, and yes, it’s a lame haiku. This leads me to a recent review of Sonia Sanchez’s Morning Haiku, which appears in the recent Rain Taxi (vol 15, no 1, Spring 2010).

Before we get to the review of the book of haikus, let’s look at the first sentence of the review.

Sonia Sanchez’s latest book resonates boldly as a jazz ensemble; clear and poignant, it is intransigent in her subject matter.

Does every review and blurb I read about an African-American poet have to refer to jazz, jazzy rhythms, and jazz ensembles? I’m sick of the stereotype and generalization.

Now to the haiku that is reviewed. When you are reviewer, the excerpts you use should reflect the quality and tendency of the book as a whole. As a result, I’m relying on what the reviewer shared, which is to say I haven’t read the book. Nonetheless, here’s an example:

we taste the
blood ritual of
southern hands

Hmm. What is a  haiku supposed to do? Well, first, I’m not going to talk about 5-7-5, because that doesn’t matter, and I’m not going to talk about seasons or the accretion of each haiku into the next. I’m talking about the haiku itself. What is a haiku supposed to do? Haiku juxtaposes two images, and then from line two to three is the amazing line break. The great leap that connects the two images. The leap that connects the left side of the brain with the right side of the brain. A leap that is beyond logic, reason, or unconscious thinking. The above quoted Sanchez haiku doesn’t do that do. In fact, it doesn’t do much of anything. There’s no leaping in here. There’s no lightening bolt. This is purely linear. It’s kinda boring. More energy, more tension could have been created if it read:

we taste
the blood ritual
of southern hands

At least now there is a leap. A leap with something the mind can hold on to as it leaps. The mind as it leaps from line one to two can at least leap into the possibilities of tasting, and at the end of line two, it can wonder what the blood ritual tastes like, but with “the” and “of” at the end of the line, there is nothing. The line ends flat with nothing to hold on to on the line turn. My re-line breaking doesn’t help the poem much, as the poem still plods along as prose.

Then there are these:

how to moisten
the silence of an
afternoon molestation?

his touch wore
you down to a
fugitive eye.

The reviewer and the poet are getting caught up in content. It’s strong content, but the lines aren’t helping the experience. In fact, they are undermining the experience.  “his touch wore” as a line is confusing. Yes, there should be tension between the line and the syntax, but the image, rather abstraction, becomes confused. Remember poets: each line is a thought image or thought idea. The reader needs the line to make sense so it can stick in the head. There’s nothing to see or hold in “his touch wore.”

Now, let’s look at more successful haiku.

say no words
time is collapsing
in the woods

That’s better. Even though there is only one image, it moves like a haiku should move, like a poem should move. It could have been much stronger with the second line as “time collapses.” Get rid of that weak verb and gerund.

I feel I’ve drifted a bit from my intention. I wanted to stress the point of the line breaks in haiku, especially from lines two to three. That line break is huge. It’s more than a volta. It’s a leap that connects everything. It’s a yoke that pulls reason and the unconscious together and that bridges the two hemispheres of the brain.

A successful line in a poem should act as a haiku – always connecting. The line break should be an awesome force, as it is in a haiku. In today’s American poetry, most of the poetry that is happening in a poem is only happening in the line break, and often, as noted above, it’s not happening well.

Some attention is also being paid to qualitative rhythm but hardly any to quantitative rhythm, nearly none to harmonies, and almost nothing to the breath. So what I’m saying is, pay attention to the line. Use the haiku as a model.

Calligraphy of geese
against the sky –
the moon seals it.

– Buson, as translated by Robert Hass in The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson, & Issa.

I think I need to expand on and clarify this more.//

The Cave (Winner of The Bitter Oleander Press Library of Poetry Book Award for 2013.)

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