More on Haiku, Senryu and the nomenclature of hybrids

Haiku and Senryu

A few weeks ago I explored the similarities and differences between Haiku and Senryu (Read here and here)while constructing a few of my own having being inspired by Richard Wright’s ‘Haiku: This Other World’ [1][2][3] Both forms contain seventeen morae or ‘on’ or syllables and are structured in three metrical phases of five/seven/five syllables and are unrhymed but it is the Haiku that usually has a thought pause. Senryu is about human nature, can depict humour, sarcasm, cynicism, opinion, philosophy etc while Haiku takes inspiration from nature, should contain a seasonal reference (kigo), a thought pause or a cutting word (kireji), should be succinct, Zen, austere and portray harmony of images.

The Haiku of Matsuo Basho

Matsuo Basho, the most distinguished Japanese poet of Haiku [4]explained best, man’s affinity with nature in his travelogue Oi no Kobumi (Manuscript in My Knapsack): One and the same thing runs through the waka of Saigyo, the renga of Sogi, the paintings of Sesshu, the tea ceremony of Rikyu. What is common to all these arts is their following nature and making a friend of the four seasons. Nothing the artist sees is but flowers, nothing he thinks of but is the moon. When what a man sees is not flowers, he is no better than a barbarian. When what he thinks in his heart is not the moon, he belongs to the same species as the birds and beasts. say, free yourselves from the barbarian, remove yourself from the birds and beasts; follow nature and return to nature! [5]

Contemporary insights

Hakutani and Tener, editors of Richard Wright’s compilation of Haiku [5] quote R. H. Blyth who writes thus about Haiku taking further from Basho’s position, an insight into what Haiku means, even today: the joy [in Haiku] comes from the “(apparent) re-union of ourselves with things.” It is the “happiness of being our true selves.” Austerity is not only a lack of intellectualization, it is almost a wordlessness, a condition in which words are used not to externalise a poet’s state of feeling, but to “clear thing,” according to Blyth, “that seems to stand between” the poet and real things. Because the real things are not actually separate from the poet, they “are then perceived by self- knowledge.” Certainly, haiku ideally removes as many words as possible, stressing non-intellectuality, as thought, like passion, must depend upon and not substitute for intuition. The joy lies in the humor, the lightness, the lack of sentimentality. Blyth states: “It goes down to something deeper than the unconscious where repressions wait with ill-concealed impatience. It goes beyond this into the realm where a thing is and is not at the same time, and yet at the very same time is.”

I find Blyth’s explanation along with that of Basho’s sets the yardstick of measure of great Haiku, of what is true to original form. Contemporary Haiku verse exhibit a flexible composition, which makes it tricky to navigate the 5/7/5 syllabic construction, which may quite as easily qualify as Senryu. Does a reference to the natural world in a verse with a philosophical concern or one based in metaphor, make a Senryu a Haiku or vice versa or can it be a new form entirely. I found an article by Elizabeth St Jacques [6]that helps solve this issue. She cites George Swede, the co-founder of Haiku Canada (1977) who provides, she says, the clearest and most logical answer. After studying haiku types, he came to the conclusion that English-language haiku consist of “three content categories”: Nature haiku, Human haiku (senryu), and Human plus nature haiku (hybrids).

Linked Haiku/Senryu hybrids as a meditative process

I created some hybrids that appear to blur the distinction between both forms, although I find that staying true to the original may be an acceptable challenge of maintaining discipline in poetic construction while preserving the essence of Haiku or of Senryu. The evolution of a separate form based on similarity of structure and pithy intent is inevitable, acceptable and should probably be given a new specific name and description. I wish it could be called something other than a hybrid. Bloggers and poets Mike and Bryan at their online magazine indirectly allude to this form as ‘Failed Haiku’, which is also the name of their blog. They have compiled a detailed resource guide for Haiku and Senryu that I found especially informative to read [7]

I should like to write Haiku like Matsuo Basho because it would appear to be a meditative exercise in attempting a certain degree of mindlessness, or as Blyth noted ‘non-intellectuality’, yet, Haiku along those principles is still profoundly thoughtful because its construction is intentional.

Exploring the nomenclature of hybrids in a new paradigm

The terms Haiku/Senryu can be confusing while classifying such hybrid poems, even as current descriptions stricture one within the accepted forms of composing either. Hybrids have evolved into a separate form altogether and I wanted to name specifically the style and process I use in composing verses to a 5/7/5 syllabic pattern, as well as the linked forms of the same. I looked through a range of popular terms used in the meditative practice of Kintsugi that could possibly apply to such hybrid Haiku. Kintsugi itself is the literal term for the gold joinery of accidentally broken ceramic, sealed in East Asian lacquer which is a resin made from the highly toxic sap of Rhus Verniciflua [8][9] a technique that emphasises the scars and imperfections in the finally reconstructed item. Thus kintsugi (as ceramic art or as meditation) embodies the principles of wabi-sabi (looking for beauty in imperfections, revering authenticity), gaman (the practice of dignified endurance), kansha (act of expressing gratitude for nature’s gifts), Eiyoshoku (nourishing the body), mottainai, (which expresses regret when something is wasted) and  mushin  (the acceptance of change) [10] All of these apply to my compositions, yet are not an exhaustive list. Even so, these are merely words, in a language I am not familiar with except for these terms in universal usage.

So I ventured to look for something  analogous within the organic world. Here, unlike in the material world, where objects can be created for pleasure or even broken to be fixed, it is the principle of adherence that finds resonance in the living, in the attachment of cells. In living organisms for example, the very basis of the evolution of multicellularity lies in the fundamental property of the ability of cells to adhere to one another. This is brought about by Cadherins, which are transmembrane cell–cell adhesion molecules, that have a role to play in cell signalling, in determining cell shapes and cell positions, triggering tissue morphogenesis etc. When cells contact each other, cadherins from the opposing cells located at the site of contact form trans-bonds across the contact [11] Interestingly, stained tissue viewed under a microscope under various interplays of light would appear to resemble Kintsugi (gold joinery) but all this within a structured yet fluid assemblage of cells , like in a 5/7/5 Haiku. Of course, it would be odd to name hybrid haiku/senryu after such calcium-dependent adhesion but this adherence of cells finds favour in my understanding of contemporary pithy 5/7/5 composition. Such hybrids are not about fixing brokenness or creating Frankensteins or simply observing the beauty of nature or measuring imperfections or life philosophies or spiritual practice or expressing witticisms. They are more like a fluid cellular organisation of disparate functions, still uniquely defining an intentional yet kinetic proliferation akin to existence ~ a cellular morphogenesis that simply appears to occur, yet adheres in a cohesive narrative, a matrix of tissue. Perhaps, such haiku/senryu hybrids, when linked in stream of consciousness style of writing, could be called adhesion haiku or adherence poetry or viscid haiku ? (haiku here simply refers to the recognisable 5/7/5 syllabic pattern. Viscid was first used in the 1630s and refers to something adhesive, mucilaginous, viscous). I am merely exploring but I will go with Viscid Haiku for my linked ‘not exactly haiku’ style of verse for now.

Viscid Haiku

I composed some today inspired by the mundane here and now and also moments accreted to memory. I would like to call this hybrid poetry process as babbling through a brook of  consciousness 🙂

I scored dough today,
bread flowered in the oven.
Earth kaleidoscopes.

Blather of sunshine
roused late blooms in feverish
hues. Embarrassed paths.

Orchid drops pale hues
onto a seasoned table.
There's always Autumn.

As underlayment,
foam muffles rushed footsteps. We,
never heard them leave.

Driving through New York.
Walking in Manhattan feels
like morbidity.

We travel common
googled itineraries,
breathe borrowed moments.

Water displaces
underground soil. Friends depart
and houses settle.

Sore eyes seek a page
and gravity haunts water.
Pen stole a moment ..

Delightful I find,
this kitchen spiralizer.
Geometric food.

Thunderstorms last night
felt like aliens messing
with clouds and fire.

There are many ways
to craft a photo booth light
box. Sun's always bright.

The book I'm reading
never ends. Thoughts cruising past
words to tomorrow.

References:

[1]~https://akitahaiku.com/what-are-haiku-senryu-and-tanka/

[2]~https://poetrysociety.org.nz/affiliates/haiku-nz/haiku-poems-articles/archived-articles/modern-senryu/

[3]~https://poetrysociety.org/features/on-poetry/senryu-the-haikus-comic-cousin

[4]~https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/basho

[5]~Wright, Richard:haiku – This other world, Edited by Hakutani, Yoshinobu and Tener, Robert

[6]~https://startag.tripod.com/HkSenDiff.html

[7]~https://failedhaiku.com/links/

[8]~https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/elac/hd_elac.htm

[9]~https://mymodernmet.com/kintsugi-kintsukuroi/

[10]~https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.nbcnews.com/better/amp/ncna866471

[11]~https://www.cell.com/current-biology/pdf/S0960-9822(13)00710-0.pdf

Preconfigured deities

I arranged this poem as a series of linked morae of seventeen syllables of the haiku/senryu 5/7/5 pattern.

In a world of the brilliant spark of life, the desire to survive, rival species, judgment and chaos, I took inspiration from periodical cicadas.

They are quite an interesting bug of the order Hemiptera, genus Magicicada and comprise seven of the approx. 3,000 species of cicadas which only occur in the eastern United States. Unlike most cicadas, periodical cicadas lay eggs that hatch and then their nymphs burrow underground for either 13 or 17 years, depending on the species, while subsisting on xylem fluids of rootlets. Brood X of 2021 (roman numeral – ten) was one of the largest groups. Cicadas emerge when ground temperatures reach 64 degrees Fahrenheit. This year it was in May. Males of the periodical cicadas sing using special organs called tymbals which are membranes that vibrate very quickly when pulled by tiny muscles and this vibration creates the cicada’s song.

Cicadas protest
the harsh light.       A horary
ear splitting drumroll
            of sunday sermons -

simply pungent polemic
   crowding around in
a bowl of       sticky
      gruel      ad infinitum

   Stars made no promise
to enflame the sky,
poet! Yet,    how we believe ..
      unctuous metaphor,

sparking delusions,
   imagery       combust .. piss ..
on the bathroom floor.
The Stoic's ablaze. We 

rise to bright, indifferent
self immolation.
Stars fade, cool, splutter
supernovas. The light's not
         always about us.

We are,
             because of ...

For those interested, there is the cicadasafariapp available online, that maps annual cicada emergence and helps share and identify species.

Some references:
https://source.wustl.edu/2021/05/brood-x-cicadas-emerge-in-a-rapidly-changing-world/

https://www.google.com/amp/s/martinsvillebulletin.com/news/local/the-secret-underground-life-of-cicadas/article_1c6ac5a5-a40d-5c38-a5a9-622a9150dbce.amp.html

https://www.nps.gov/articles/000/cicadas-brood-x.htm

Polk Salad / Poke Sallet to the Haiku of Richard Wright ~ an exploration

Poisons come in all manner or form and the ones found in the plant body of Pokeweed are potently toxic. Fatal in large amounts, in smaller doses though, they are sufficient enough to make one seriously ill. The ingestion of any part of the plant might result in symptoms of vomiting, diarrhea, convulsions, and rapid heartbeat. As someone noted of poke-sallet or Phytolacca: “It will clean you out from the top of your head to the bottom of your feet.” [1] The dish Polk Salad (made from its young leaves) itself is a form of survival cooking, a necessary thrice boiling out of toxins, like the purging of demons. Now what does Pokeweed have to do with Haiku one might ask …

As part of the Sealey Challenge [2], I took up the only poetry book written by artist Richard Nathaniel Wright, well known American author of Native Son and Black Boy, [3] who began writing Haiku towards the end of his life, thousands of them during his grueling battle with Amoebic dysentery and it quite melded with the Pokeweed I chanced upon during a marshland walk recently.

Phytolacca occupies that twilight zone between being totem and mascot of  poke-sallet themed festivals in Kentucky to noxious weed turned rare famine food. As a vermifuge (anthelmintic – medicines used against worms) it has had its use at a time when people were constantly plagued by gastrointestinal parasites, but today, it occupies disturbed land and is actually great food for songbirds. Native to eastern North America and the South, it is used as an ornamental in horticulture and is of some utility in biomedical research although for most part it is considered a pest or weed as it is poisonous to wild animals and livestock.

Phytolacca americana, also known as American pokeweed, pokeweed, poke sallet, dragonberries is a poisonous, herbaceous perennial plant in the pokeweed family Phytolaccaceae [4].

The berries develop from flowers that arise on elongated inflorescences called racemes; beautiful, symmetrical, predictable patterns like Haiku emerge, engorged on metaphor it would appear, they ripen to a debilitating crimson philosophy. Thus, they are quite unlike a traditional Haiku in construction, but if the flowering of Pokeweed is used as an analogy to  poetic process, it develops more like a trenchant Senryu.

In the helpful afterword by Hakutani and Tener, the editors of Richard Wright’s ‘Haiku, This other world’, the authors maintain that  Wright’s work was more Senryu than Haiku because he struggled to develop austerity in them i.e. the absence of philosophical or metaphysical comment, the absence of intellectualisation or imposition of an excessive rationality [5] Haiku essentially stresses non-intellectuality, a Zen kind of humour, lightness, a lack of sentimentality, profusion of joy and a deep connection with Nature. 

I understand Haiku to be more of a practice in the ‘where, what and when’ rather than the ‘how and why’, while Senryu is more of a mock Haiku despite the similarity in 5/7/5 syllabic arrangement, they are more logical and less intuitive. Hakutani and Tener suggest that the major themes in Wright’s haiku reveal his desire to create another world in which his black and white focus would be part of his feeling for nature, that he writes more often about death and the setting sun, about the moon and loneliness, about scarecrows, the rain, about farms and farm animals, about birds and insects, and about spring, the season of blossoms and blooming magnolias.

Traditional classical haiku thrives on the connection between man and nature, and has as its central focus, nature centred feelings of unity and harmony similar to Zen philosophy, which also stresses the experience of the present moment in life or in nature. Within the seventeen syllablic construction itself, two entirely different experiences may be joined in sameness: spirit and matter, present and future, doer and deed, word and thing, meaning and sensation (Hakutani and Tener). Haiku embodies Yugen. Wabi and Sabi. Yugen is a delicate principle of philosophy in Zen Metaphysics, applied to art to denote the mysterious, underlying the surface. Sabi is related to loneliness, a quiet graceful beauty, and Wabi to the uniquely human perception of beauty stemmed from poverty. Japan’s greatest Haiku poet, Matsuo Basho [6] is known to have used the aesthetics of Yugen, Wabi and Sabi. His poetry majorly illustrates that if a poet’s feelings were conveyed in haiku, then those must have been aroused by nature, the four seasons, flowers and even the moon.

Yet, the poems of Richard Wright, some of which read as Senryu if viewed under a classical lens, feel like an amalgam of the antithetical, of subtle beauty with a strong flavour, like Pokeweed. Then again, isn’t intrinsic harmony of being, simply a matter of perception? Aren’t our words merely an inadequate contrivance for harmonising that which we are unable to reconcile, given inherited ideas of beauty and perfection? A plant like Phytolacca, viewed from the principle of Yugen, is perfection in symmetry yet a potent poison. What poetic form could deny the clear beauty of a dangerous inflorescence, its inherent toxicity that would arouse  the emotion of fear or an action to self preservation, a serious aftertaste of misgivings. Even devoid of metaphor, Pokeweed is nature at its finest, benign in form but threatening a perilous interaction. Whether it be Senryu or Haiku, words do little justice to the thoughtlessness recommended in classical Haiku, no matter the strict adherence to form and yet words are all we have.

I have selected some of Wright’s Haiku to share, which I hope are not of disservice to what the author accomplished, given his own understanding and exploration of the form. Reading Wright’s process and the illuminating afterword provided by Hakutani and Tener has been useful in my own education on succinct verse.

Long myths of pokeweed.
Healing colours of marshes
are poison berries.

~ davina

References:

[1]~https://www.saveur.com/poke-sallet/

[2]~https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Wright_(author)

[3]~https://lithub.com/the-sealey-challenge-an-expansive-way-of-reading-poetry/

[4]~https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phytolacca_americana

[5]~Richard Wright, Haiku – this other world, pages 255, 279, 282

[6]~https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/basho

Seasonal light

Yesterday was watered down in rain but the sun peeked out this morning. It’s fun being out and about in a drizzle if you find Rhododendrons along the path. This time I managed to photograph almost all the varieties there are, but the Plant Identification App I used has been unable to explicitly identify the species or cultivar. In any case, they vary from Rhododendron simsii, R. ferrugineum or Alpine rose, R. indicum, R. calendulaceum or flame azaleas and are a riot of colours.

Simply some Haiku today, I couldn’t manage an epic 😄 Here is a great resource for a glossary of Haiku [1]. For an exploration of Senryu, I found this quarterly journal of Japanese short form poetry, very useful [2].

Rhododendrons this season
Clouds eclipsed by Sun.
Rhododendrons are simply,
light hidden in hue.
Bright flowery boughs
illustrate a fragrant love
on dark moonlit nights.
If this be colour
of chastity, then I must
promptly turn flower.
Alpine rose outshone
Bathsheba in seducing
King David perhaps ...
Flowers simply are
method to manoeuvre time
to hours of hue.
Flayed passions bleeding.
Desire steers affections,
Springtime transgressions.

Resources:

[1]Haiku Glossary ~@https://haikucommentary.wordpress.com/haiku-glossary/

[2] Simply Haiku: A Quarterly Journal of Japanese Short Form Poetry ~http://simplyhaiku.haikuhut.com/SHv3n3/features/anita_virgil_senryu.html