I recently received a copy of called home by the haiku poet paul m, published by Red Moon Press. This compact, 90 plus page volume is a fine example of contemporary English language haiku in its scope, power, and lyricism. Though many a haiku expert contends that the form cannot be written in English, this volume belies that hoary dictum. If you don't want to call them haiku, call them whatever you want. To quote the late, great Sonny Boy Williamson, in conversation with Leonard Chess, at a recording session for his song Little Village (which they were having a hard time getting a decent take on, hence the testiness):
Leonard: Go ahead we're rolling, Take 1
What's the name-a this?
Sonny Boy: Little Village.
A Little Village, Mother Fucker! A Little Village!
Leonard: There's isn't a mother fuckin' thing there about a village.
Leonard: Nothin' in the song has got anything to do with a village
Sonny: Well, a small town ...
Leonard: I know what a village is!
Sonny: Well alright, goddamn it!
You know, you don't need no title.
You name it up, you, I got-get through with it, son-of-a-bitch.
You name it what you wanna.
You name it your mammy, if ya wanna.
called home is a collection that by default, and considered arrangement, roughly chronicles paul m's (pseudonym of the poet, Paul Miller) life journey from California to New England, where he began life and now once again resides. His introduction perfectly sets the table, but not just for this volume. m. succinctly captures the mileau of haiku itself, the evocativeness and universality of the form. Rather than badly translate, let me let the poet speak for himself:
In selecting poems for this collection, I was reminded of my nomadic existence of these past few years as I shuttled back and forth between California and New England while changing residences and employment. Because of their focus on the moment, and a spatial requirement for only the most essential information, haiku are a telling record of our daily participation with the world. Yet these poems are more than mere calendar entries because it is their emphasis on daily details - details that have no inherent meaning except that which we give them - that tell of our truest interior emotions.
The playwright Arthur Miller once wrote, commenting on a cornstalk's shadow, that it represented more than just itself, but also "the time of day, the position of the earth and sun, the size of our planet and its shape, and perhaps even the length of its life and ours among the stars." If this is true, it lays a tremendous burden upon language, for it implies a complete world order from the merest of words. Haiku appear to offer the most merger of objects doing the meanest of things; yet it is in those merest of words that we find what Robert Spiess described as, "creation taking place at every moment." But accessing a haiku is not an easy task. The Japanese master Ogiwara Seisensui called them unfinished poems because they require a reader to complete them. To be a reader of haiku is to be a willing particpant. It requires the faith to step into the cornfield; to pause on a slope with a plant called footsteps-of-spring; and to be willing to look for oneself in a daffodil shoot. Haiku are poems of immersion.
m. goes on to detail that home is the main theme of his collection, home which he sees and feels in the most minute, sometimes unexpected details. And then he strikes deeply in the vein:
Perhaps our truest home is the emotional state that connects us to these vivid details, an emotional state that cannot be defined intellectually, but only felt in the moment, the now of its happening ...
Here the poet has given us the greatest gift of all, a glimpse of understanding into the self, an understanding of the essentially unknowable, as good a definition of why poetry matters as any I've ever come across. The thematic territory he is mining here reminds me very much of James Wright and the poetry of Hermann Hesse.
The vision is all his own and it is illuminating.
Here are some of m's forays into the unknowable, with an open invitation for you to complete them.
today the courage
to speak to her
stars between the stars
my life sounds frivolous–
the cactus wren stays
one bush ahead
spring foghorn ...
from an over-crowded ledge
of an Amish farm
the things I can't tell her
I have never
kept a diary
old stone wall
a single spider strand
closes the gap
not all spiders
get carried outside
keeps the tree between us–
with my beliefs
I cross the pond
what I will
Red Moon has done a great service in the publication of this volume. It has been reviewed by Charles Trumbull over at Modern Haiku: check out his take. This is a small press publication of significant proportions. For haiku buffs, it's one to read again and again.
Today is the birthday of Eric Burdon of the Animals and later War. His vocal takes on blues, r & b, and some of the great rock songs of the 60's can't be overestimated. Along with the Stones, the Animals brought the blues back home to America via the British Isles and changed the course of music and the lives of generations to come. Here's a tune my sister and I used to scream out in our little 4 room apartment when the oppression got to be way too much.
the home village
cherry trees in bloomIssa
translated by David Lanoue