The Price of Freedom

I paused for a while beneath the towering, twelve foot high ‘Mourning Soldier’ created by Sculptors J. Tom Carrillo and Thomas Jay Warren, who designed the New Jersey Korean War Memorial in Atlantic City. The Memorial  features bronze figures of heroic proportions, that represent the US servicemen and women who fought in the Korean Conflict, 1950-1953, the nation’s only undeclared war, which claimed more than 36,000 American lives. Approximately 7,600 service personnel remain unaccounted for in this war [1]

In that time I knew, I wished to bear witness to what the anonymous soldier may have felt, fashioned thus. Isn’t that what poetry is meant to do? Bear witness?

“There can be no real love without a willingness to sacrifice. Do you love your country? Do you love the men with whom you will be privileged to serve? If you do, then you will be prepared to sacrifice for them,”  said Lieutenant General Matthew Ridgway, commander of the 8th US Army in Korea while addressing his troops [1]

I read further about the Memorial site after my visit. In that moment though, as I stood in the shadow of the bronze giant, a scene came to mind,  from that great old Western, The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly; the one in which Eli Wallach’s character Tuco, runs through a Civil War era cemetery, to Ennio Morricone’s unforgettable, Ecstasy of Gold [2] As I lingered a while longer, I tried to imagine what it is the soldier may have thought,  what is it I may have thought if I were him …

Freedom is not free ..

A scene of war at its least grotesque is accommodated into my psyche as hundreds of neatly laid graves, buried gold and grave expressions. Here he was, this handsome soldier holding dog tags, mourning his loss perhaps, drily gazing at metal that is supposed to be made of T304 stainless steel and which contains 18% of chromium, 8% nickel, to help resist corrosion [3] later when I read about the significance of military dog tags, I learnt they usually have various details embossed into the metal, like first and last names of the soldiers, their military ID, serial/social security number, their blood type and religious preference as a token for identification. Historically, of the two dog tags allotted to each soldier, one is worn on a chain around the neck and the other is placed within the boot in case the body is dismembered. Today, it is a symbolic part of US military culture as the military uses medical/dental records and DNA sampling to positively identify deceased military service members [4,5]

A large advertisement on the window of a casino hotel along the boardwalk; Atlantic city has a vibrant casino scene.

I think the poem came about in a stream of consciousness, of scenes juxtaposed against a crowded boardwalk. Everyone seemed to be simply passing through an evening while the fading light marked a watery horizon that spanned far beyond thin wooden defenses erected on the sand. The casino hotels while towering in their lights, funnelled the banter of a weekend crowd to the skies, wafting as it were on pungent smoke. And there he was, the only mute figure in metal, stamped in endless mourning.

Poetry exists, I think sometimes, to give a voice to the silent. It is an ekphrastic poem I created with each stanza arranged as per the haiku/senryu 5/7/5 syllabic pattern, linked form, which I have come to refer to as viscid haiku, for lack of a better term. I wrote about it here.

Words for the Mourning Soldier…

Those final mercies
of alloy, engraven with
beaming stainless names..

Trophies I gathered,
lay cold in boots that had worn
the tread of reason,

trudged the practical
pursuit of happiness, raised
in a picket fence ..

frail notions against
ingress of sea, that others
like me, shan't trespass

these deep trenches of
solitude fashioned for my
loyal labours

Of hearts that
beat for land, sky and water,
yours carved in life, pulse

still to endure, on
stiff badge of universal
brotherhood. Lustrous ..

my chromium guilt.
I have survived the deluge
of shrapnel that rusts

not nickel or dime.
Devoted sacrifice, yours,
finds soul harbour safe

within me - rewards
I've reaped thousand fold, as I
walk home to freedom.

On the Beach ~ Atlantic City, NJ







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.






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