Monday, July 11, 2011

Day 7: Shaking it up


at both horizons

lightning beside the pines

In honor of the new book we've made together, I borrowed a technique from Stephen Addiss to write this haiku.

A couple of years ago Steve took a batch of haiku he had written, cut them up into individual lines, and scrambled the lines to create new, partially randomized haiku. They were surprising and wonderful, and became the basis for our collaborative artists' book project called stitching speechless. I created the haiku here in a similar way. I took a manuscript of my older haiku and, using dice, pulled lines from randomly selected poems to create this new one.

For me, this technique highlights two strains of art that Zen thinking has inspired in the West. One of them is Romantic and sentimental*. As Zen made its way into the Western mainstream during the 20th century, it fit in well with native philosophic traditions like the Transcendentalism of Emerson and Thoreau & the ecological movement that was emerging at mid-century. This is the vein that informs the nature-oriented haiku that are the most common Western haiku today.

The second strain of Zen-inspired art in the West is more procedural. It's about removing the artist's ego from his or her creations rather than about expressing the artist's unique, privileged understanding of the world. This strain of Zen art-making is appealing in much the same way that 20th-century avant gardes like the Dada movement and Marcel Duchamp's 'readymades' were -- challenging the idea of the artist as a genius maker of beautiful things. John Cage is the main example when I think of this procedural vein of Western Zen art-making. My haiku for today is in that second vein.

Of course I also like it aesthetically as a poem, so I guess I'm cheating and letting the ol' ego in anyway...

*I don't mean those terms in their negative senses at all.

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