Posts Tagged ‘Wallace Stevens’

Kobayashi Issa, (1763-1827) A Haiku Poet with Enormous Heart

May 12, 2013
sky in the NorthEast, Jane Kohut-Bartels, June 25, 2012

sky in the NorthEast, Jane Kohut-Bartels, June 25, 2012

I have had “The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson, and Issa” for a few years and have only really read to Basho. But recently reading Issa, (Issa means Cup-of-Tea), the world of haiku opened up in ways I didn’t expect.

What is remarkable about Issa’s poetry is the compassion for the lowest of creatures (insects, etc.), the deep interest in the commonalities of life, compassion for humanity, and the joyful celebration of the ordinary.

Haiku can be a perplexing poetry form. Recently I have read a lot of bad haiku. I’ve written about this before. (I’ve also written bad haiku myself) It seems people throw together observations and call it haiku. It generally isn’t. There are ‘rules’ and structures for this poetry form, and it seems that many people who attempt haiku have no regard for even reading or researching some of these fundamentals. If they started with a reading and research of renga, they would get some background of haiku, or hokku, which is what haiku was first called.

Renga, or linked verse, is marvelous to read. One poet starts with a three line poem, another picks it up, and so on. They can go on for a hundred linked poems or more. Usually accompanied by sake.

What was remarkable of renga, and later of haiku…is the shifts and dissolves that remind one of early surrealist films. And there are some modernist poets, like Ezra Pound’s XXX Cantos, or even better, Wallace Stevens’s “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” that comes near to the renga spirit, this shifting and resolve.
But the Buddhist tradition embraced this shifting and resolve. Renga, and then haiku, have a way of embracing this life, this transitory nature of all things.

I came across a part of a 14th century treatise on poetry:

“Contemplate deeply the vicissitudes of the life of man and body, always keep in your heart the image of mujo (ephemerality) and when you go to the mountains or the sea, feel the pathos (aware) of the karma of sentient beings and non-sentient things. Give feeling to those things without a heart (mushintai no mono) and through your own heart express their beauty (yugen) in a delicate form.”(from “Basho and the Way of Poetry in the Japanese Religious Tradition”)

Again, haiku isn’t as simple as it seems. But it’s direct, forceful and of a keenness that satisfies.

People complain of the ‘oddness’ of haiku. Perhaps it is this ‘shifts and resolve’ embedded in the form. To me, Issa has less of this than Basho or Buson. There is a directness and compassion of Issa that deeply involves the heart and eyes.

And a deep sense of the absurb and a great sense of humor in Issa.

My words will not convince anyone. But perhaps examples of Issa will.

Lady Nyo

Haiku of Issa: from The Essential Haiku, edited by Robert Hass

New Year’s Day—
Everything is in blossom!
I feel about average.

The snow is melting
And the village is flooded
With children.

Don’t worry, spiders,
I keep house

Goes out,
Comes back—
The loves of a cat.

Children imitating cormorants
Are even more wonderful
Than cormorants.

O flea! Whatever you do,
Don’t jump;
That way is the river.

In this world
We walk on the roof of hell,
Gazing at flowers.

Don’t kill that fly!
Look—it’s wringing its hands
Wringing its feet.

I’m going out,
Flies, so relax,
Make love.

(approaching his village)

Don’t know about the people,
But all the scarecrows
Are crooked.

A huge frog and I,
Staring at each other,
Neither of us moves.

All the time I pray to Buddha
I keep on
Killing mosquitoes.

What good luck!
Bitten by
This year’s mosquitoes too.

The bedbug
Scatter as I clean,
Parents and children.

And my personal favorite…

Zealous flea,
You’re about to be a Buddha
By my hand.

some of my own, struggling with the form.

Dogwoods are blooming
The crucifixion appears
White moths in the night

A frog with moon eyes
Sits staring in the path.
Is he stone or flesh?

Billowing spring winds
Blow pollen in crevices
The water floats green.

The moon howls tonight.
Perhaps the dogs entice it.
Chickens are restless.

A fox on the prowl
This bitter cold spring night.
Dried grasses rustle.

Jane Kohut-Bartels
Copyrighted, 2013

“I Wonder…..”

May 1, 2012

Over the past few weeks I have been doing little except reading.  I have been reading, or trying to read, Wallace Steven’s “The Collected Poems” and  selected poems of William Stafford.

I have to say Stevens is the more convoluted poet, and I am not sitting easily in the reading of him; it’s a challenge but something I am dedicating time to do. I’ve ordered a couple of books of critique, or at least an ‘entrance’ into the mind of Stevens because he is far and away more difficult (to me)  than most poets of his time.  Some of his poems are absolutely  enchanting. Some I haven’t a clue as to what they mean.  But this is probably the way of most poets.

William Stafford is of a different cut. In an introduction by Robert Bly,he states that Stafford belongs in that catagory of artists the Japanese have named “national treasures”.  He also has this ‘theme’ of a golden thread: He believes whenever you set a detail down in language, it becomes the end of a thread…it will lead you to amazing poetic riches.  But don’t pull too hard on that thread, or it will break. (paraphrase of Robert Bly’s introduction in “The Darkness Around Us is Deep”)

I get that.  I can feel it in my bones.  Perhaps there is something so fundamentally ‘human’ about Stafford that he sings a universal song, or writes the universal poem.  I do know that his relationships with his parents, in poetic verse, hit me between the eyes.  It was very much a liberating experience to read.  It compelled me to dip  deeper and be more honest in my own attempts at understanding these two fundamental influences, not only in my life in general, but my poetry. “I Wonder….” is influenced by his own honesty, and his throwing out a particular golden thread.

Lady Nyo


I Wonder…..

I wonder about myself,

The mourning, the sorrow,

A low flame inside

Flaring with memory

Burrowing deep,

A shadow of flame

Intruding upon the day

Throwing me back

Into a murky past

Where I am rattled by its force

Its grip–

An unwelcome visitation.

I cover the sadness

With a silk blouse,

A mask for a face,

An unsteady smile.

Order for the outside

Hiding chaos within.

My father’s death had me

Travel from hatred to love

Finally understanding this old man

Who could not say “I love you”,

But did.

When he was close to death

I washed his body

Bathed this feeble old man,

Emptied of power, rage

Returned to innocence

Now forgivably human.

When my mother is dead, finally dead

Will I travel this same path

From hatred to love?

Will I rewrite history

Me to forget anger,

Her with an ember of love,

To end the remorse

To make more of a ‘mother’

To bury her with love?

I started out from love

And it grew to hate.

Life can do these things,

And when I aged

It started to reverse

Half way back.

But it never really makes the full circle

For the wounds are deep

And memories hurt like hell.

Perhaps only time will tell

In this fugue of life.

Perhaps it will come to be

A dull blanket of forgetfulness

Thrown over the past

That segues to forgiveness –

….in time.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2012

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