Truthiness in Haiku
I recently wrote that haiku should be “genuine.” I had more than one reader point out that haiku doesn’t need to be autobiographically accurate. That is a useful observation, although I was using genuine in the emotional/psychological sense.
So perhaps I’ll amend that to “experienced.” In this, haiku is like any other kind of poetry. It should come from what Keats called the “objective correlative”—the experience the poet had that inspired the poem.
Is haiku poetry? This may seem like an odd question, but I’ve heard writers of haiku say it isn’t poetry. To me, it most decidedly is. If poetry is human feeling expressed in condensed or structured language, then it most certainly is. Poetry of course is a lot of other things, but this might serve as a minimal definition.
“Write what you know” is an annoying truism but I always add a second part: “So know a lot.” Accuracy of report is for journalism, not for poetry or even memoir. I’ve had many students tortured by trying to be “true” in their autobiographical writing. However,
1. We can rarely know what “true” is. (To start a family fight, see if your version of events is agreed upon by everyone!)
2. Poetry and memoir are primarily Literature with a capital L. They aim at deepest truths through craft, not factual accuracy.
Here, however, is a marvelous synthesis between the accurate and the felt. From Mann Library’s Daily Haiku:
the morning glory vine:
on this last day
Elizabeth Searle Lamb
I knew Elizabeth very well, and I’m quite sure she counted those blossoms. She was very fond of morning glories, which flourished under the green thumb of her husband forester and entho-botanist Bruce Lamb. Actually much of the charm of the first two lines is that the poet took the time and care to count—to count and to enjoy. I’m not sure exactly what the last line refers to—but I assume it is about moving away or moving house—the last day of seeing the vine. The blooming is a kind of farewell, although the flowers will continue, if unseen. It is a farewell to the relationship.
I don’t usually think of haiku as memoir, but I’m seeing that it can be. Most importantly, it is Literature. Which Kafka said is “an ax for the frozen sea within us.”
Something to aspire to.