5-7-5 [1 ]

June 9, 2012

Because the rain speaks.
Of roots, names, wet flowers. That
we are underlings.


14 Responses to “5-7-5 [1 ]”

  1. fivereflections Says:

    thanks for mentioning ‘Gerhard Richter’ painting, “September”. i just looked at on the web.

  2. extrasimile Says:

    First, thank you one and all. We’ve spend a lot of time on these 13 words and 17 syllables. It’s interesting how we got into a discussion of haiku when I specifically did not call this poem, ‘A Haiku’. I mean, is it a haiku? If we answer yes to that question, aren’t we guilty of a superficial view of what a haiku is? Just be careful counting your syllables, pal, and you’ll be okay. One of the motives of calling it 5 – 7 – 5 was to call the haiku into question. Think of it as a minimalist poem and you have to respond to it in another fashion. I remind you that the full quote from Julius Caesar is:
    “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
    But in ourselves, that we are underlings.”
    Under the rain, under the roots, the names, the wet flowers: underlings. I was down at the World Trade Center Memorial, and I live in New York. I have spent a lot of time in the WTC. I had a friend who worked there. He did not die in the attack, and I did not know anyone who did, but this shit cut close to home. This so called haiku is a product of a rainy Sunday afternoon at the memorial.
    Gerhard Richter has a notion of ‘the un-paintable’, and his painting ‘September’ is one of the best works of art to confront the WTC head on. It is a painting of one of the planes crashing into the WTC, with most of the paint scraped off. I am a big fan of Richter’s, and of this painting, and this is closer to what 5 -7- 5 is about than some miming of a traditional Chinese art from— a poem with most of the words scrapped off. Now, maybe it is only a bouquet to I gave to myself, one I left amid all the twisted metal and dust and dirt created by a handful of people who had convinced themselves they were doing something righteous, and maybe as such it is too private. I was able to get down to the area two days after the crash. In the chaos you could walk right past the barricades. I still remember the smell down there. The sense of great evil. Spiritual discipline, indeed.
    Because the rain speaks…
    Have you seen the pictures of people falling from the sky? There was one I saw of a man in a business suit, plunging through space his arms tightly wrapped around his body, as if he could prevent what would happened when he hit the ground.
    Of roots, names, wet flowers.
    The names left behind, the wet flowers left on the memorial, the roots that did not grow.
    That we are underlings.
    Yes, but who is the ‘we’ here?
    Three sentence fragments, 17 syllables, 13 words. Amen.

  3. Tom D'Evelyn Says:

    First, Jim’s haiku — or “ku” — would be welcome on many of the venues provided by The Haiku Foundation. The discussion it provokes is basic to modern haiku. The issue of “anthropomorphism” is a key haiku topic.
    Second, the habits of mind, as we can discover them, implied by Basho’s work, are obviously not fully recoverable. But in studying Basho, one quickly realizes his dependence on Chinese thought, and since THAT is formal and a matter of rational debate, especially in the Taoist literature, one can begin to get a clearer picture of Basho’s mind. I do a lot of that work on my blogs.
    Third, as for “equivalent” disciplines, meditation is a place to start. Roy’s book “Mystical Consciousness” is a scholarly comparison of east-west “equivalents.” Bevis’s “Mind of Winter” is very good on the meditative disciplines “behind” Wallace Stevens’ poems. Again, I indicate research areas on my blogs. In US, we are embedded in various “transcendentalisms” and “deep-selves” that need to be thought through since they obstruct the key awareness of the difference between the singular and the universal. Paradox is a key figure of speech in these discussions and metaphysics is a source of mind-clearing disciplines as well as mind-numbing befuddlement (e.g. Heidegger).
    Fourth, and finally, a study of “composition” as inner form indicates that “writing” is a process that, whatever the level of awareness (from the merely objective to the most thorough-going metaxological), inner form is just a name for following “something” inseparable from consciousness itself.
    Whew! MUCH is enfolded in Jim’s ku!

  4. John Stevens Says:

    So, haiku as meditation and loss of the self, in opposition to self-expression. I see that.
    But what are the equivalent disciplines today?
    Poor Jim – what happened to the rain speaking?!

  5. Tom D'Evelyn Says:

    My view on the popularity of haiku in USA (I once tried to organize a scholarly zine on haiku) is that it is dependent on the modern need for self-expression. Ditto with FB and Twitter of course. But the problem is, haiku in its great Japanese phase is a brilliant art form rooted in Daoist meditative disciplines. This is a problem because it is NOT true we can’t find the equivalent disciplines today. So “haiku” in fact challenges our lust for self (expression). I have a few private students who study the “old way” with me and write sparkling contemporary haiku.

  6. John Stevens Says:

    This is an interesting departure for you, Jim, although you generally write economical lines.
    I am intrigued by the widespread enthusiasm in the West for haiku – or the English equivalent. I wonder whether the popularity partly reflects the general liking for short statements – SMS messages, tweets, 5-second attention-span, etc. On the other hand, people seems to buy vast numbers of extremely long paper back novels. It’s puzzling.

  7. Tom D'Evelyn Says:

    Haiku as I see it is about the interplay between finite singulars (particulars) and the universal impermanence of finitude: the haiku itself “luminously” captures the singularity of something against the background of its “gratuity” (it is not a necessary being). The Daoist roots of Japanese haiku point us away from modern nihilism, but they don’t point us toward an Emersonian “oversoul” as I understand Emerson meant it. Sonja’s photo series on Tom’s website is a great example of inner form. The doubling of the sun in the water in the final photo does not resolve the tension between the “true sun” and it’s double but reminds us that the whole wandering of the boy toward the pond happens “in the between.” This wandering is understood by early Daoists and then down the millennial tradition as the response of the individual to the paradox of being (that beings are NOT being). I try to explore this ethos on the ecoku blog as well as on tomdevelyn.info at The Literary Bag.
    Sorry for the length of this comment!

  8. Thomas Davis Says:

    Jim and Tom, both of your discussions exceeds my understanding of the haiku form, so, of course, I am fascinated and will have to think about this. This would seem to me to be the perfect haiku within my understanding of haiku. The point of a haiku, I thought, was to start with what Tom describes as inner form, an object, a response to an object or an action, and then send us out into a space where we must think or rethink or become enlightened. Preferably, in my limited understanding, the final line should also widen the response into what Emerson would have called the oversoul, or at least some glimpse of transcendental truth.

  9. Tom D'Evelyn Says:


    if you can get into that page and fill it out, we can outsmart this thing; if not, I’ll ask you the questions and sign you up. Before we do that, let me open the comments to anyone for 24 hours!

  10. extrasimile Says:

    I tried subscribing, but I am still asked for a password.

  11. Tom D'Evelyn Says:

    Did you try subscribing first? That should do it. I’ve had problems with spam so want the comments to be restricted to those who have subscribed. Let me know if you still can’t comment.

  12. Tom D'Evelyn Says:

    Another co mentor had the same problem you do with the pass word. I will look into it, again. And I will respond later to this rich set of responses. I have long dealt with what I call the sandbox culture of Muriku (EP’s crunching of America plus ku for haiku). so what you are doing here is intriguing. But I must to the pond now!

  13. extrasimile Says:

    Tom: I would say the latter. The interest to me here (and what I would hope is of interest to the reader) is how the attempt at a sentence falls apart under the pressure of the 5 – 7 – 5 structure—though the abundance of punctuation and the passive-aggressive subordination of each fragment perhaps plays a bigger role in the collapse.
    I will not be coy here. 5 – 7 – 5 clearly refers to the haiku form (as we English speakers understand the term) but it reflects a perception that perhaps entirely too many haiku-like poems are being written these days. There is nothing more easily written than a bad haiku. Counting syllables, I would like to suggest, is not the whole story. Can numbers replace the romance of words? Call a poem a haiku and you get a certain promotion into an exotic realm that is generally not earned. And that promotion obscures thought. It has not escaped your attention that almost half this poem (? Does my analysis of ‘haiku’ also pertain to ‘poem’? Yes, I think it does.) was written by William Shakespeare. (6/17—but who’s counting?) Something that has escaped your attention—because it would be impossible to know from just reading the poem—is that 5 – 7 – 5 was written just after a visit to the World Trade Center Memorial. It was lightly raining. As such the Jonathon Swift reference here—I take it you are referring to ‘A Description of a City Shower’—is stirring and slightly unnerving. 5 – 7 – 5 was written in innocence, if not quite in ignorance, of this poem.
    Drown’d Puppies, stinking Sprats, all drench’d in Mud,
    Dead Cats and Turnips-Tops come tumbling down the Flood.

    Tom, to change the subject, I would love to add a thought or two to your blog—especially as New Pond Song 100 approaches, but the comments section asks me to log on with a password. It seems like it wants your password. Is there a solution to this?
    Do say more about the haiku. While I don’t think 5 – 7 – 5 is one, I am tending in that direction, I think. The netsuke stuff, for example.
    Well, it is Sunday morning. I have reminded myself to look at a book I have owned for twenty years, The Way of the Carpenter by William Coaldrake. Might be interesting to look at in this context, I think.

  14. Tom D'Evelyn Says:

    Does the title refer to the ahisorical convention in anglophone haiku? If so, does it matter that it is based on a mistaken comparison? On the other hand, lines containing those numbers of syllables do indeed disturb the traditional English ear. Perhaps all of this is beside the point of this post. We are all certainly underlings when it comes to the rain. Remember Swift’s poem on the theme.

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