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Friday, 29 July 2016

Haiku a Day - Just A Few Lines

I know I said I wasn't going to write a load of posts about my latest 'annual project' [this year I'm writing a haiku a day. Last year was ‘a line a day’, the year before that 'diary a day'], but I don't think one update will tip anyone over whatever edge they may be on. After all, we have knocked through, rather inelegantly, into the second half of the year already, so it’s the perfect time for a neurotic person to take stock.

I'm still finding that there are some days I don't bother with the regime, and there has been a recent stretch of just over a fortnight where I was behind. Every time I fail and I write about it, I hope that putting my finger on the faults will stop them happening again. That's not happened! The greater wisdom, though, is to accept upsets are inevitable, and, though I wish I wrote 'perfectly' [both in the act of doing and in the words themselves], I have to realise that's just silly isn't it? Suffering comes from wanting things that are impossible, and wanting to change things that are inevitable. So there.

What I'm finding quite exciting is my engagement with 'haikuism', that is, what is a haiku, what are they to me, what makes a good/bad one etc. To me, a haiku isn't strictly the strict 5-7-5. I have tried to write at least one of these a day, before usually going on to do more in a less restrained and, hopefully, more intra-natural way, whether it be traditional or more 'pop-y'. After all, as Kerouac said in American Haikus [1959], it's unusual to think that the structure used in one language should be the same in a different one. Then you have the considerations of nature that are usually found in the traditional ones. I can see their original function, but first off they strike me like rhymes - clich├ęs, wastes of space on the page... Secondly, nature isn't always natural in our lives today. When writing about a street fight, it may be lit more by streetlight than the moon. And maybe the colour of blood is more intriguing than the yellow buzz of halogen. And that's it, you know, I never believe you have to stick to this or that rule. You do what's right for the work. I remember having a conversation about this with someone who said, “'Yeah but it's good to follow the restrictions,” to which I say “It can be” [and we need look no further than OULIPO to make this point]. I mean, hey, sometimes you express something great in fewer syllables. Is that not worth applauding? Since the whole essence of haiku is to be essential, why stick more syllables in just to conform?

The other thing I was on about was what makes a good/bad one. The bad ones I've written are those where, put simply, there's no movement in it, no soul or energy or life or whatever you want to call it – it’s been bent by human hand, not living as if created cosmically. They're just 'this stuff happened, line break, this stuff, line break and this is the end'. Maybe that's over-simplistic, but here's a bad example of mine, from April 2nd:

Red Men keeping lead
'gainst Spurs, what a great result!
then Lovren gifts Kane...

As you can see, it's just exposition. No 'heart' or 'soul', really. I mean, there is a bit of humour. The exclamation mark suggests a finality that is ruined by the curt last line. But it's not good. Here's one of my favourite all time ones by Jack Cain:


What do you think of that? I think it’s really evocative. It's not just the image that is there in my head, as if I was already thinking about it without reading anything, or maybe even feeling like I'm there, but it's also the 'emotional connotation'. I always got the sense of the loneliness in the room, and it made me feel melancholy. Have I just missed something? Or [this has just come to me] has someone walked out on me? Anyway, that's great in my view. And here's one of my own that I think has turned out alright, just to balance things a little:

ocean's opposite sides:
pensioner waves, baby guggs
and bus rolls on

If you were to ask me about the effect of this year's 'project', I wouldn't speak about it too highly, but there are lots of little positives. It gets you to put pen to paper, it gets you to engage with your surroundings, it has a 'no pressure' [or little pressure, at least] thing about it, y'know, 'ah it's only three lines', which makes it accessible. And you learn a disproportionately great amount about poetry in general from those three lines [although I'm saying that having written hundreds of them...]. You can learn about sounds and rhythm, wordplay [linked heavily with where you 'turn' and also line breaks in general, but also ambiguous words/synonyms], form [more through the restrictions rather than the freedoms, i.e. you might think how you'd do it without the 5-7-5 syllables, or even if there's any point to it, y'know. It's like the mind examines the poetics of it once you're down in the rabbit hole] and, perhaps above all, focusses on the hygiene of what you're doing, the weight of each word, how it holds up after cutting out this and that.

So these aren’t earth-shattering revelations, but I remember the point where I'd written a few and thought 'hey lots of these are shit. All I'm doing is writing, essentially, diary-tic exposition, but breaking the line after five syllables, then after the next seven. It's not haiku, it's practically prose'. And then I started to bring it back to the basics, and asked myself 'what's the image, how's the mood and where's the opportunity for play'? Also, I found that I was beginning with this scene-setting [expositional] line every time, and actually, if I swapped the final line [which was often explanatory/illuminating] for the first, more curiosity was created. It wasn't clear what was going on, you know, there was an ethereality to it, a gas to walk through to try and feel through. And what I found then was that I sometimes wanted to delete the clunky line, and write something that didn't make everything so obvious. Not necessarily intentionally ambiguous, but just shining a light on part of the memory of what I was writing about, giving a fuller flavour of the situation I was in.

Again, it sounds basic, but sometimes I get so far down the road with, say, visual poetry, which, without going into detail, has different focusses than, say, lyric poetry [sorry for the simplicity of this...], that I get amazed all over again at the foundations of another genre. The unifying experience of most poetry I’ve worked on is how you can treat language like a material. Cut it another way, drape it over the back of a chair while you move the rest of it about, then stick it back together in a different order. What I'd like to do is move more towards the 'modern style', where small, mundane things take on an effortless gravity. It's just really cool. The last example of mine [above...] was a bit too self-consciously grand in theme. But we'll see what happens. I'm getting light headed here... Better lie down…

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