May 31, 2022
Does this formal rigor seem like it would be inhibiting? The reverse is true. It’s liberating!
Haiku is a traditional form of Japanese poetry, usually consisting of 17 syllables, arranged in three lines of five, seven, and five syllables, respectively. Does this formal rigor seem like it would be inhibiting? The reverse is true. It’s liberating!
Forced to pay attention to every syllable in every word of every line, economy becomes a habit for the Haiku poet and she develops a keen eye for the superfluous. Haiku strips pomp and circumstance from the world. It distills experience down to what William James called a “bud,” i.e., a quantum of experience. British philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, went even further. His is a universe consisting exclusively of events - events he calls actual entities. Each actual entity is a quantum of experience, a bud.
Each event will include the objective features we label nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc., as well as subjective features like perspective (‘actual world’), feeling (‘prehensions’), tone (‘subjective form’), target (‘subjective aim’), and completion (‘satisfaction’).
But all these ‘elements’ combined do not make an event, an actual entity, an experience. It’s the other way around. These elements only exist as potentials until they are actualized in experience. This is where Haiku comes in. Haiku explicitly presents the world, not in terms of objects, attributes, and actions, but in terms of experience.
Every Haiku is (or should be):
A bud, a quantum of experience.
A double-headed arrow, pointing simultaneously toward the singularity at the core of every event and toward the cresting wave of ever-expanding space.
A Star of David: as above so below, on earth as it is in heaven.
A membrane, porously separating (and therefore uniting), the external and the internal aspects of an event.
A ‘dissipative system,’ regulating the exchange of material across ‘the membrane.’ A dissipative system is the simplest model of a living entity.
Therefore, a Haiku is a living organism. (So is a bottle of wine, properly corked and cared for, of course. In fact, when wine suffers because it has not been properly cared for, we say that the wine is dead, quite literally.)
While the most famous Haiku were composed in Japan in the 17th and 18th centuries, the Haiku form (and its earlier variations) has stimulated poets from many cultures and eras, including our own. Famous American author, Richard Wright, for example, devoted the final period of his life to writing Haiku.
Starting with our Autumn Issue (AT Magazine #2, 9/1/2022), each issue of ATM will include Haiku, selected by our editors from submissions by you, our loyal readers. Please send us your Haiku. Click firstname.lastname@example.org and submit. For more details, check out the Haiku Challenge in this issue. (Sorry, we are unable to pay a fee for Haiku, but we are happy to broadcast it, with attribution of course.)
Haiku Corner will appear in our 9/1/22 issue and in every issue thereafter. In the meantime, check out a few Haiku from traditional Japanese poets, American poets, and, yes, ATM’s editors as well. Enjoy!
Autumn empty now,
Leaves bore into soggy ground.
Birds fold into clouds.
(After Basho – 17th Century)
We build barricades -
Kith and kin and kind – hide from our terror - the void.
Ed. Note: Jean-Paul Sartre (Nausea) says that there ‘are no perfect moments’; these two poets counter, citing personal experience, the lifeblood of Haiku:
Train rattles my ear,
Sun reveals magic to us,
A perfect moment.
Grits, butter, no cheese,
explosion of Tabasco
which cantaloupe cools.
Not all Haiku needs to be deadly serious. It can be lighthearted too. At 6 years old, my job was to make snowballs for the stronger boys to throw:
You there, “Make snowballs!”
Crumble-on-contact. Age six,
Crooked arms dealer!
One caw of a crow
Turns all of the fallen leaves
A deeper yellow.
Writing love poems now -
Planting season so long gone - How ridiculous!
Drip, drip goes the water
How I wish I could use it
To wash the world away.
(Basho – 17th century)
Ed. note: a friend and I engage in a very short ‘Haiku-slam’:
Hanging on corners -
Dark streets, dive bars, and the Ritz - Having fun with friends.
Sleeping on the tracks -
Flying first class selling dreams. Behold a poet!
David Cowles is the founder and editor-in-chief of Aletheia Today Magazine. He lives with his family in Massachusetts where he studies and writes about philosophy, science, theology, and scripture. He can be reached at email@example.com.