Friday, April 19, 2013

Hackett, Again

I have been having a bit of a dry spell lately.  The poems I’ve posted recently have been from notebooks that are about a year old, for the most part.  It’s not a complete drought; just a slowing down in output.

As usual when I go through a period like this I pick up a Haiku poet and enter into a dialogue.  I do this by responding to their Haiku with a 7-7 response; turning the Haiku into a Tanka, or a Tan-Renga. 

One of the results of doing this is that I get to know the Haiku poet very well; what kinds of Haiku they usually compose, what subject matter they tend to focus on, the rhythm of their writing, etc.  This time I have picked up James Hackett, in particular his four volumes of Haiku Poetry.  Here are a few thoughts about Hackett’s Haiku that have emerged from this interaction.

First, I have noticed that juxtaposition does not play a central role in his Haiku.  Many of his Haiku are single-sentence Haiku.  The focus seems to be on presenting a complete and compelling image.  For example:

Each bud of iris,
although tightly sheathed in green,
hints the hue within.

This is one of Hackett’s close-focus observations.  Hackett had to really observe the iris buds to notice this particular aspect.  It seems that Hackett is particularly good at these kinds of minute appearances that we often miss in the rush of our lives.

There is also in Hackett’s Haiku a strong sense of Haiku as poetry.  Here is an example:

As twilight tolls,
petals fall into the dark stream
revealing its flow.

Again, we have a single image without juxtaposition, a single, complete sentence.  Notice the unobtrusive slant rhyme of tolls/flow.  Each line ends in a single syllable word and each one of those words is metrically emphasized and this gives the Haiku a strong sense of musicality and cadence.  A Haiku like this has a strong sense of conscious poetic craftsmanship.

There is also an overall sense of lyricism that I have picked up.  I think that is why Hackett’s Haiku are often expansive; long-count Haiku are common, for example.  A sense of rhythm and flow trumps conciseness in his presentations.

This engagement with Hackett has changed my opinion about one aspect of his Haiku.  I used to contrast Wright and Hackett by noting that Wright’s Haiku contain depictions of the downtrodden and desperate; whereas Hackett, I suggested, didn’t seem to be in touch with this region of humanity.  Then I came upon this:

Too cold for snow:
the loneliness standing within
each flophouse doorway.

This is, I think, well done.  The loneliness of poverty is depicted as even colder than the winter snow.  There is a unity here that is thoughtful and revealing at the same time.  And there is a humanity about it as well.  It is true that Hackett does not have as many Haiku focused on the less fortunate as Wright; but I was wrong about them being absent altogether and it is good to note that Hackett’s world is wider and more encompassing than I had previously assessed.

A distinctive feature of Hackett’s Haiku is what I think of as the ‘thoughtful observation’ Haiku.  For example:

Wind now sweeps through
the trees touching the same leaves
never, and again.

Here Hackett is making a philosophical point.  By ‘philosophical’ I don’t mean argumentative or some kind of reason based inference.  I find this kind of Haiku similar to the terse statements of Heraclitus, “You cannot step into the same stream twice.”  It is like sharing a personal insight. The poet’s voice is present in Haiku like this; Hackett is speaking to us, asking us to look at the world in a particular way.  But it is not an argument Hackett is presenting; rather Hackett draws out an implication from an observation of nature and then presents it to us for consideration.

At times this voice of the author comes forth in the first person:

Among these mountains,
I’ve lost my longing to live
in an ancient time.


My pillow, sweet grass . . .
my view, a cloud ever changing,
ever the same.

This ‘ever changing, ever the same’ resonates with ‘never, and again’.  It is a persistent theme.

Here’s one of my favorite of his ‘thoughtful observation’ Haiku:

Need friends ever speak?
There’s tea to taste, and windsong
from the garden trees.

My appreciation for Hackett is deepening.  It’s a nice feeling to revisit a Haiku poet and discover aspects one had previously overlooked, to kind of grow into the poet’s presence.

In closing here is one of Hackett’s Haiku, followed by my response:

Viewing new snow . . .
the shape of my loneliness,
every winter breath

beneath the waning last quarter moon
beneath the limbs of the bare oak tree

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