Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The real and the precious and the real

I'm exhausted after a hockey game tonight, and having trouble concentrating enough to work on a new haiku.

Instead, I went digging through my scrap pile of old papers and notes, and came across this from some years back. Not a haiku, but relevant in the sense that when you're a contemporary American person writing haiku, you always have to find a balance between respecting the long Japanese tradition from which it comes and blindly imitating it; between beautiful, delicate subjects and more modern, everyday things:

"Sitting outside reading some poems by Sam Hamill and thinking these particular ones were a little too precious, with a feeling of inauthentic chinoiserie*. At that moment a single white petal from a Bartlett pear tree floated in front of me and landed beside my crossed legs. Was it a message of some kind? It sure was damned precious. But if that petal was a message, then all the other things nearby had to be as well -- a bright, partial orange rind in the liriope bed; a cluster of five cigarette butts; each of the thousands of bricks that made up the courtyard..."

A lot of the notes I recover from my old scraps just don't work anymore. But this one still rings true. When you feel like your haiku might be getting too pretty or precious or sweet -- look for some orange rinds and cigarette butts to write about. And when your haiku are too reliant on trash and trying too hard to be gritty or modern, remember that the flower petals are just as real. It's all real; it's all notable, in one way or another.

*I don't remember which of his poems I'm referring to -- in general I have the greatest respect for Sam Hamill's writing, translations, and work with Copper Canyon Press. His book of essays, A Poet's Work, was very important to me when I was just out of college and starting to write more seriously.

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