horse piss and other issues

simple trust:
do not the petals flutter down,
just like that?

This haiku is by Kobayashi Issa and was presented by Kristjaan Panneman at Carpe Diem #416, Jodo-ji (temple 49). It inspired me to write the following:

simple trust
the earth beneath my foot

towards morning?
stars blotted
by clouds

joyful running
the toddler turns to check
for mother

simple trust
the puppy belly up
to the sun

BB 2014

Today Kristjaan has us looking at ‘freedom’ in regards haiku, He appears to be taking us through concepts of haiku as presented by R. H. Blyth.

“These are some of the characteristics of the state of mind which the creation and appreciation of haiku demand: Selflessness, Loneliness, Grateful Acceptance, Wordlessness, Non-intellectuality, Contradictoriness, Humor, Freedom, Non-morality, Simplicity, Materiality, Love, and Courage.”― R.H. Blyth

Freedom, in this context, is freedom from convention, tradition, expectations, and the Buddhist concept of freedom from attachment, from desire. 

his medical tests
he turns his face
to the breeze

first chill
in the kitchen again
the scurry of mice

BB 2014

Zen Buddhism’s effect on haiku is a contentious issue for a number of poets. Some state that haiku is, first and foremost, poetry, that Zen is what some poets also practice, and that the emphasis on Zen in haiku in the west is because RH Blyth and others, who brought haiku to the west early in the 20st century, had a particular leaning towards Zen. 

Others would swear on their mother’s graves that haiku starts and finishes with Zen, that Basho was a practitioner of Buddhism and, because he presented the first stand-alone hokku (i.e. not as the first poem of renga), haiku is definitely Zen.

I’m simplifying greatly, and haven’t done recent research on this so there may be inaccuracy of details here, however I thought I’d put my two bob’s worth in. Haiku can be practiced as a Zen art but can also be practiced by people who have no interest in Zen. But there are indispensable characteristics of haiku that are similar to, or informed by, Zen. The delicious spare nature of haiku as I know it, is also evident in Zen. Haiku at its best has a way of making you contemplate. Through the use of the kireji, or cutting word, or the English equivalent of juxtaposition, it opens up to more than what is simply stated, something like the koan. Haiku’s famous objectivity (showing rather than telling) opens one’s sense of acceptance, grateful acceptance, a Buddhist concept.

Fleas, lice,
The horse pissing
Near my pillow

Basho [trans. R.H. Blyth]

It is very ‘zen’ — to not engage with likes and dislikes. but…

the world of dew
is a world of dew
even so, even so

Kobayashi Issa again (a remembered translation, possibly a mix of more than one). He had lost his daughter to smallpox. He was contemplating transience in this haiku, saying the world is like a dew drop, will change. That he knows one of Buddhism’s main tenets is non-attachment but ‘even so…’ Grief is grief and attachment is inherent in relationships.

I think Zen has informed haiku but so has Taoism and Shintoism. Also the Japanese way or ethos, history, courts, you name it. No poetry lives in exclusion; it is coloured by the culture in which it arises. Haiku does exist outside Zen and, being a vital and growing form of poetry, will change with the practitioners worldwide. This is how it should be, but at what point does it depart so markedly that it needs a different name?

I have some trouble calling my poems ‘haiku’ as the more I know about haiku (and I have been studying it and its theory for years), the more I realise that I know next to nothing. It feels like cultural appropriation for a start, and to use the name means buying into ‘haiku wars’, arguments and theories, that I’d rather have no part in. On the other hand I love the form with a vehemence, including recent Japanese haiku and haiku in the English-speaking world. What else would we call it?

horse piss
the sound of music

heaping manure
around my roses
the stink of piss

and a simple single open rose
the child’s upturned face

BB 2014

9 thoughts on “horse piss and other issues

  1. I really enjoyed the information you provided. I was not taught haiku via the key elements, rather just the count of syllables. While I think any poem allows for interpretation, I do disagree with fractured sides that want to rent or tare the fabric of what the poet writes. So I suppose my haiku are not traditional. But I have no other name for them and am always exploring how to change up things. So I suppose it is a benefit to not know the rules I am breaking. 🙂


    1. That’s is one of the points I was making here. what else would we call them? Some people use the word micro poetry, but that has no syllable count (unless you want of course) I think it’s imperative that each poet follows the direction of their own expression. What they call it is secondary.
      Actually ‘traditional’ English language haiku is the name given to 5-7-5 according to many publications. They usually have a number of other guidelines though, like a two part structure, objectivity, are nature based and have a kigo (season word).

  2. What a superb post – academically right up there with any and possibly a key short paper. I would only choose one word quibble, the word “poetry.” I wonder if haiku is poetry in a technical sense.
    No matter. Really found this post so interesting.

    1. I’m really glad you found it good Hamish. I would certainly call it poetry. More like free verse, but (traditionally at least) more structured. It did my other poetry no end of good to practice haiku but I am much more interested in good free verse than more structured forms. Some people I’ve read say that it can be very poetic in Japanese. I haven’t studied Japanese, (though I may yet), so I can’t say. But as you say, ‘No matter’

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