Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Five anti-haiku written while riding a bus to Hamilton with Paul Janman

[Paul Janman and I recently made an epic journey by bus to the exotic-city state of Hamilton, where Paul's movie Tongan Ark was being screened and discussed by a very nice bunch of social scientists. I'll write up our adventure tomorrow, if only to make Paul Theroux and Redmond O'Hanlon jealous, but in the meantime here are some dodgy jottings I made on the Citylink chariot. I'm sure they'll attract an even more enthusiastic response than the poetic gems I posted from Hamilton East last year...]

Rangiriri Pa Historic Reserve 

Tawhiao's ears ringing
as loudly as these crickets

like an early morning slag-heap
on the counter
of that Freiburg bakery:

this coal looks delicious
Buller's Book of Bombs

slow explosion
of sparrows

like a drone
Near Taupiri

Sunlight sidesteps through
the broken door
of the scrubcutter's hut,
leaps an armchair,
lands in a corner,
and pins a runaway rugby jersey
to the floor

Christ Church, Taupiri

That iron cross is also a weather vane.
Once I saw it trembling reverently
in a storm. Lightning spread horizontally.
I imagined angels convulsing
on their black cloud-beds
like depressives being given ECT.

[Posted by Maps/Scott]


Anonymous Anonymous said...

the last one is offensive

9:43 am  
Anonymous Scott said...

Sorry anon: it is a bit sick. I couldn't get the image out of my head, though, when I saw lightning streaking through the sky. If someone believes literally that there are angels lying about up there in the clouds, how do they think these creatures cope with the lightning?

6:04 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Since angels are (presumably) spiritual beings rather than material beings, they (also presumably) would not have physical bodies. However, the authors, prophets, and poets who first wrote about angels in biblical times did not know how to describe invisible spirits except in anthropomorphic terms--that is, they depicted the angels as human. For example, Abraham sees three men approaching (Genesis 18:2) who turn out to be angels bringing messages, and King Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 3:25) sees four men in the fiery furnace when he only threw in three, and Acts 1:10 mentions "two men in white who stood by" at Jesus'' tomb. So, the bible reports angels that can be easily mistaken for humans, usually males. Female angels (and demons), such as Lilith (see Staff Report at www.straightdope.com/mailbag/mlilith .html) were few and far between.

Note that these earliest angels do not have wings. In Genesis 28:12, Jacob dreams of a ladder reaching to the sky, and angels "going up and down on it"--they didn't fly. Halos and harps also came much later in the evolution of angels.

Other later, more poetic mentions of angels, for example in some of the books of Prophets, offer very different descriptions. Isaiah 6:2 describes angels with six wings, each pair having its own function--two to cover his face, two to cover his feet (read: genitals) and two to fly. Ezekiel has a vision of angels with six wings and multiple faces (1:6ff), and also of angels as fiery wheels, or thrones, with many eyes (1:15ff).

The variety of descriptions led scholars and theologians to conclude that there were several kinds of angels. After all, a huge creature with six wings and four faces would not be mistaken for a human by anyone, let alone Abraham. Hence, there must be different classes or species of angels, even fallen angels (devils and demons being merely classes of angel).

By the Middle Ages, the number of species and the ranks of angels were being hotly debated. Cecil wrote about this in "Did medieval scholars argue over how many angels could dance on the head of a pin?" at www.straightdope.com/classics/a4_13 2.html. Thomas Aquinas's lectures in 1259 set down everything known about angels, reasoning from scriptural and extra-scriptural sources. Aquinas concluded that angels were intellect, not matter, animals without bodies who can assume bodies at will, who eat and drink and appear among mankind. Aquinas also fixed the hierarchy of angels, and his pronouncements have prevailed in Christianity for three-quarters of a millennium....

A few decades later, around 1320, the Italian poet Dante Alighieri followed the hierarchy set forth by Aquinas in the Divine Comedy, with definitive rankings and poetic descriptions of all the heavenly creatures, both good and evil. Dante mostly wrote of angels as transcendent beings of light and song.

By the Renaissance, Martin Luther (1463-1546) referred to angels as "guides." However, Protestants generally didn't pay much attention to angels. John Calvin (1509-1564) called writings about the angelic hierarchy "the vain babblings of idle men" and deplored such speculations as fruitless and unprofitable. (Ha!)

6:36 pm  
Blogger Sandra said...

I like "Near Taupiri" and "Huntly" best. It's only a sentence, neither a dissertation nor a facebook 'like', but I thought I'd say hello and that I like what you've written, Scott. As I read the Huntly lines, I wondered what you'd make of our coal town. Maybe a trip south is in your future?

9:15 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

I'd love to explore Westland properly, Sandra. A decade ago I made it from Haast - as soon as we crossed the pass and landed on the coast the sandflies arrived - to Greymouth, but I'd very much like to visit Westport, and admire the boats that daily go over the ferocious surf on the bar there, and Millerton, where the legendary Leicester Kyle wrote his late poems.

In John Pascoe's superb 1938 book Unclimbed New Zealand, which describes the expeditions of young Canterbury Uni arts students - Denis Glover, Allen Curnow and other literary luminaries sometimes tagged along with Pascoe - to virgin peaks of the Southern Alps, there's an account of a semi-accidental journey right across the spine of the South Island to the West Coast. The young Pascoe, who had never left Canterbury before, was astonished by the cultural differences between the westerners and his home region. He wrote about the west as though it was a distant and exotic country. Perhaps it was!

9:58 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Great Haiku Maps.

A conscious T S Eliot here?

Near Taupiri

Sunlight sidesteps through
the broken door
of the scrubcutter's hut,
leaps an armchair,
lands in a corner,
and pins a runaway rugby jersey
to the floor

A similar rhythm except that in 'Prufrock' it is the yellow fog.

Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

Latter there is:

'Pinned and wriggling on the wall.'

Typical Eiotic or Laforgian devices?

Regardless. A good set of poems for sure.

10:36 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Also in the tradition of Basho you are "seeing famous places" and things or people. Except you are a lot more ironic (slightly satirically and Laforgian also!?)

But coal can indeed seem delicious!

Your struggle (like Updike with the material to spiritual - as in say 'In the valley of the Lilies'? You also mentioned 'Roger's Version' once.

These are not just good though. They are bloody good.

10:45 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

As far as haiku go, I prefer your offering from the days of Salt, Richard -

the windscreen wipers were mad
with exuberance!

I have had a pretty troubled relationship with haiku. Although I admire the perfection that they can achieve, I also feel uncomfortable about the insistence of the great haiku writers on seizing and preserving a single moment of time or a single event.

I have much more sympathy with William Faulkner's belief that it is inadvisable to describe any event without first describing the whole previous history of the world. Faulkner explained his long and winding periodic sentences by saying he was trying to give some historical and social context to his verbs.

I suppose my misgivings about haiku are related to my misgivings about Zen Buddhism, or at least some varieties of Zen Buddhism. The belief that one can detach one's mind from society and history - from the mental power grid, so to speak - and retrain it in blissful isolation seems to rest on a false understanding of the self and of thought. I prefer Smithyman's maxim that we exist always inside language and history, and thus are hopelessly collective beings.

For me, the 'anti-haiku' is about contaminating the supposedly isolated moment with traces of history and the effects of other events. Hence the first piece in this sequence tries to fuse the crickets of 2012 with the artillery of 1863...

10:56 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wouldn't say so. William Faulker's observation is better understood that it's impossible to divide a moment from its context in history - otherwise Faulkner is doomed not only to contextualise his writing, but also contextualise himself as the author, and then he's stuck in a loop of describing himself describing history forever... so because you're acknowledging that any one moment is fundamentally related to others, you're still respecting the spirit of the masters of the form while transcending their limited understanding - more Zen than Zen, perhaps.

2:23 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shinto is Zen for men.

Check out Mishima - he blows that woofter Basho out of the water

9:16 pm  
Anonymous John Christopher Harrison said...

I first heard about the religion called Buddhism over 10 years ago. I recently woke up to the fact that I've been wasting my time looking for this vague concept called "enlightenment" by searching for this guy named Buddha... who is in fact... DEAD! (You can imagine my shock.) I was under the impression that shaving my head and spending thousands of dollars to learn Tibetan at UVa would somehow make me happy and bring me closer to this thing called "peace." Nope. Not a chance. So, I threw all my "Buddhist" shit out and became a middle school English teacher. I don't feel lobotomized anymore!

Read the Buddhism Sucks blog

9:35 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

I also admire Faulkner. Haiku has its place. For me those short ones were exercises.

I was thinking that the form of some of what you have done in 'Feeding the Gods' is like Haibun but it was more that I had recently been reading a book of Basho's journies through Japan.

I agree in general. The influence of Buddhism in Japan and China is interesting. I feel there are things we can learn from it but - well I just re-read 'The Power and the Glory' by Greene and that is a whole dimension not observed by Basho ... but some of those very early Japanese poems are very moving.

Faulkner was notorious for those long sentences and that is a point,how to get to anything if you dont get everything (Smithyman's dilemma at Uni (or such as Borges) and also mine as in the IP?)...and the other anonymous has pointed up an interesting contradiction which points even perjaps to simply a deeper "fatalism" in Faulkner - whereas Steinbeck in say 'The Grapes of Wrath' is the Socialistic - humanitarian Humanist - he is or was a Communist I think - in it some communists or workers on strike are killed - but I read that book so long ago - and 'Of Mice and Men' is very moving.

The inwardness of Zen pulls against the inevitable social and natural nature of human beings - but we are also "imaginers".

Richard von Sturmer is much into Zen Buddhism.

(anon - I haven't read Mishima but I did read a book about him once. I also have a book by Yashunari Kawabata threatening to be read by me. Ishiguro I have read (the only Japanese novelist I have read - some years ago I got a good price for his first book on EBay) but Basho is in different medium and a different time.)

9:41 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

By very early poems I mean those much predating Basho et al - I have an old Penguin here with some of the Man'Yohsu which has poems (4500 or so!) going back possibly more than 1000 years until about 750 whereas Basho lived about 1644-1694 - he was influenced as were many others in Japan by Chinese writers and the Chinese tradition also.

But Michael and Hamish (or Richard and John Geraets or that bloke Radich (altho Ted said he had indicated he had stopped writing poetry) might tell us more about all that.

By Haibun form I meant the overall concept of writing poems with explications of them. This isn't always good but it is refreshing and a writer could do that and reserve his or her damnably obscure stuff for a later time! Smithyman is both "obscure" but also he often seems as if he is telling a story, and like you his subject matter is often there in front of himself to speak - usually in NZ - but then he takes the references out to wider connotations or reminders of history and themes... I think you are using that also but are a little less "distant"...in fact the fusing of the sounds of crickets with gunfire is Smithymanic

Of course I realize we (most of us) in NZ only have a hazy idea of what is or has happened in Japanese and Chinese literature...some of the new art from Asia I have seen includes some extraordinarily interesting and innovative works. I focused on Matsuo Basho because of a book I recently read of his journeys - a book I found by chance in the library!

10:09 pm  
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5:25 pm  

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