Essay on Objective Haiku, Subjective Haiku and Transaction Haiku--How to write.
Blog Posted:8/16/2012 9:03:00 PM
I have been researching to find any kind of explanation, set of suggestions or anything that would help us get a handle on how to write modern haiku. I think, well I'm pretty sure actually, that I can recognize a modern haiku when I read one. But I sure have a heck of a time coming up the them myself. Anyway this astounding revelation of objective haiku, subjective haiku, and transactional haiku written by Dr. Randy Brooks came up in my search. Anyone who seriously wishes to understand more about haiku should copy and paste this somewhere on their computer. This Dr. Brooks is really a brain but when he gets down to describing the various responsibilities of the writer and the reader in writing and defining and absorbing haiku, he really simplifies it with his explantions. These three essays alone will make you understand so much more about haiku. I found that my perceptions of objective haiku are right on target, but what I thought to be correct about subjective haiku, could just as well been written in a foreign language I cant even read. That's how far off base I have been in understanding what it is all about. My main question which started this was "traditional haiku is always objective:" You write about something you can touch, or sink your teeth in. Does that mean that subjective haiku is the MODERN counterpart. And if so what defines subjective. Is it subjective in the sense that it is restricted to the definitions of the writer, to the reader ?? Subjective to what?? Read what Dr. Brooks says - - -you will be amazed and glad you have these essays on your computer. What ever you do, If you want to know more about haiku don't let all this typing I did go to waste!!!!! SAVE FOR FUTURE REFERENCE - - - -COPY AND PASTE LOCALLY ON YOUR COMPUTER.
The following is a partial rendering of Dr. Randy Brooks of Millikin University, taken from the second of a two part series discussing Literary theories of writing haiku. This is taken from HSA publication Frogpond Vol. 34:2 of 2011, pages 25-41 titled Revelations:Unedited
Dr. Brooks likens the transference of literary work to a triangle in which the three points are the writer, the reader, and reality, with the intended transference located balanced, somewhere inside the triangle, depending on the weight of the other three factors.
He writes: When I consider haiku as the rhetorical (or literary) act being considered. I would say that haiku are not “about reality” yet they include a context of perception, referring to time (when) and place (where) and things (what) that are presented as images constructing an overall dramatistic scene. I would say that haiku are not about “readers and their values” but invite reader participation in the act of imagination and enjoyment while reading haiku. I would say that haiku are not “about language” but haiku writers and readers enjoy how haiku are written and constructed as literary art, including the wide range of language techniques available. Haiku are a rhetorical act --- and attempt by the writer to share with a reader an observation or heartfelt insight referring to a perception or imagination of reality through the use of artistically – constructed language.
In this essay I will explore a variety of approaches to writing haiku – a variety of haiku poetics – seeing how each broad haiku writing theory defines the elements of the communication triangle and the interrelationships of these four elements.
Please understand the importance of the following caveat: there is no “one way” to write haiku, no single haiku poetic or tradition to guide the writing and reception of haiku as a literary art. There is no final test of do’s and don’ts that will codify the reading and writing of haiku. Such lists are for beginners being indoctrinated into an approach by their teacher. On the broader level of haiku as a genre, we should embrace the observation that there are several ways, a multitude of traditions, a variety of haiku poetic theories. I believe that this variety is essential for the health and vitality for the global genre of haiku.
Broad Categories of Writing Theories
I am eager to get to the exploration of haiku poetics, but first I need to briefly explain the three main categories of writing theories and how each defines reality, favors certain language preferences, and shapes the rules of readers and writers. The three broad catagories are (1) objective rhetorical theories, (2) subjective rhetorical theories, (3) social epistemc or, more simple transactional rhetorical theories. Writing theory scholars do not agree on this, but a fourth category would be to treat literature as a unique category of writing theory with its own configuration of reality, readers, writers, and language.
(1) In objective rhetorical theories, reality is defined as the external, material world subject to the laws of nature. The role of the writer is to observe reality as accurately as possible, using our limited sensory perception. The goal is to discover and find the truth and express it without bias or interpretation. Writing based on this is often expressed in a plain, scientific style, minimizing the personal pronoun because the focus of the writing is about observed reality. This type of writing theory places a high value on description and accuracy of the revealed truth. The role of the reader is to validate the descriptions and perceptions as accurate without the blurring bias of the writer interfering.
(2) In subjective rhetorical theories, reality is defined as a personal construct of the individual. The goal is to develop and understand yourself and how you have constructed not only your own identity but also your own world view. Writing based on this approach is usually very introspective and expressive, focused on the self, with a goal of “finding your own voice” and sharing your unique perspective. This type of writing theory places a high value on sharing emotions – letting others into your private, inner world. The writer lets readers see the world through his or her own perspective. The role of the reader is to validate the writer as authentic and genuine in expressing who the writer “really is” through the writing. The sensitive reader connects to or empathizes with the writer’s emotions.
(3) In transactional rhetorical theories, reality is a social construct created over time by a community of society and is sometimes referred to as “collective consciousness” or cultural awareness. The goal is to create new knowledge and better understanding through social interaction with others who are likewise collaborating in the social constructions of new knowledge and understandings. Writing based on this approach openly invites dialogue (of polylogue) with others both present and from the past, in order to respond to previous work and to collaborate in the creation of new work. The role of the reader is to be an active participant in this ongoing polylogue and the resulting creative response process.
(4) While most scholars include literary texts within these first three catagories of writing theories, some scholars consider literary writing to be a fourth category. Those who approach literary writing as its own category would say that literature is focused on imagination and imitation of reality (fiction). Literary writing theory often focuses on language itself as the primary basis for the theory. The role of the writer is to craft an imitation of life with language that engages readers’ imaginations. The goal is to create a literary experience through the crafting of artistic language. The role of the reader is to enter into the imagined space of the literary work and to enjoy the artistic craft evident in that work.
Let us consider how these broad writing theories can help us explain and better understand different approaches to writing haiku—to various haiku poetics.
Objective Haiku Poetics
Objective haiku poetics emphasize the importance of reality, usually referred to as nature. The haiku moment is characterized as an instance of sensory perception of reality, without the blurring lens of heman values or perspective. On a larger scale, the movement of thinking is from the observation of particulars about reality (or nature) to broader universal truths (the nature of nature) that is often viewed in haiku as universal seasons. The writer is present as an “everyman” representative of human beings in general, perceiving nature (or reality) without interpretation, explanation, commentary, or emotional response. The writer is supposed to be ego-less, so that the haiku will be about the thing observed instead of the observer. The goal is to show things “as they are” without emotional coloring of significance. Often a plain style is flavored as the most effective language for this approach, so that the language is not distracting the reader from the reality being observed. Sometimes this style of language is characterized as “transparent” or “clear” as if your were looking through a window but forget that the window is there. Like the writer, the language is supposed to disappear as the reader recognizes the truth of the observation—“yes, that’s the way it really is.”
At the turn of the twentieth century, Masaoka Shiki called for a rejuvenation of haiku through a “shasei” approach which emphasized “realistic observation of nature rather than the puns or fantasies often relied on by the old school” He viewed the earlier approaches as antiquated literary traditions with too much emphasis on cliché’ subjects, stilted poetic language, and a focus on imaginary literary or artistic scenes from the past. As a war correspondent in China, he wrote haiku such as
the summer river:
although there is a bridge, my horse
goes through the water.
The role of the reader in objective haiku poetics is to become an “everyman” reader who imagines themselves reliving the experience of reality – the observation of nature being portrayed through the images of the haiku. The reader “steps into” the writer’s “everyman” perspective and imaginatively observes what the writer observed.
Subjective Haiku Poetics
Although Shiki called for “sketches from life”and Kiyoshi expanded that to the “objective sketch” approach to haiku, Shiki is most beloved for writing poetic diaries throughout the course of his fatal illness. For example, in a sequence called “Snow White Sick” Shiki wrote:
again and again
I ask how high
the snow is
As part of his autobiographical diaries, this haiku is clearly about Shiki and limited perspective of the snow from his sickbed. More than an objective description of reality, it is a portrayal of his existence and his frustrated perspective of being sick. The overall effect for the reader is to imagine Shiki lying and with some imaginative empathy, we become the person he is asking again and again “how high the snow is.” Shiki is the subject of this haiku and the language conveys his attitudes and inner emotions. This is an excellent example of a haiku written from a subjective haiku poetics approach.
Subjective haiku poetics emphasize the inner world and life of the writer. The haiku moment is characterized as an instance of self- awareness about the feelings and significance of “being in my own world.” When a collection of haiku is published by a writer in this tradition, these lived moments of insight and self-awareness often become a poetic autobiography. The writer explores his or her own identity and life’s experiences through haiku, writing about themselves, their family, their home town, their culture. Many haiku writers in this tradition embrace haiku as therapy or as a means of spiritual growth through meditation and self-contemplation. Subjective haiku writers often embrace opportunities to employ idiosyncratic language or playful language resulting in a unique voice. Among the Japanese haiku masters, Issa immediately comes to mind as a poet who wrote autobiographical haiku with a playful voice fitting his Buddhist perspectives and values. For example:
don’t give up the fight
Issa is here!
Although writers employing subjective approaches appear to us language that is spontaneous or conversational, most carefully craft their haiku to create a voice with the illusion of spontaneity and intimacy. The subjective haiku writer hopes readers are very interested in his or her life and wants readers to accept his or her haiku as genuine, authentic, expressions of the writer’s outer world. The subjective writer pretends to ignore the readers, as if the readers aren’t really examining what the writer is experiencing. The writer wants to be “true to himself or herself” and not pander to the desires of the readers. The overall goal for subjective haiku poetics is for the writer to convey heartfelt responses to being alive in his or her own world view.
The role of the reader in subjective haiku poetics is to get to know the writer and the important moments of insight and feeling they express through their “bits of life” haiku. The reader seeks to understand the writer’s perspectives and attitudes. The reader doesn’t “enter into” the writer’s perspectives, but instead lurks outside the writer’s life as if he or she is spying on the inner secrets and experiences the writer is going through. There is often a sense of becoming an intimate friend to the haiku writer, because the reader is given access to the inner thoughts, feeling, and concerns of the writer. The reader doesn’t have to become Shiki to understand and feel the frustrations of a limited sickbed life. Writer based haiku are often enjoyed because the reader does not have to take the writer’s perspective. The haiku are so focused on the writer’s life and feelings, there is little room left for the reader. In literary theory, subjective haiku poetics is similar to the poetics of the Romantic poets who were admired as individuals with unique sensibilities and expressive capabilitities. This theory tends to view the best writers as more gifted and talented than others by their innate nature. Readers are encouraged to explore their own inner thoughts and feelings, therefore developing their own individualistic sensibilities and artistic abilities by writing subjective haiku about their own lives like those admired by favorite writers.
Transactional Haiku Poetics
Transactional haiku poetics emphasize the social nature of haiku as a call and response process of creative collaboration between the writer and the reader. The haiku moment is characterized as a union of reader and writer who meet in a beloved haiku as co-creators of the felt significance of the poem. This approach seem especially fitting to haiku traditions, given haiku’s origins as the hokku, or starting verse, in Japanese linked poetry. In transactional haiku poetics, reality is socially constructed as images and language connected to culturally shared memories and experiences(a community’s shared collective consciousness) Language is also viewed as a shared social construct, with culturally sensitive word choice and phrasing being another primary means of sharing significance between writer and reader.
The reader relates to the images in the haiku through his or her own memories and associations with the things mentioned in the poem, in order to create their own felt experience and understanding of the haiku moment. The transactional haiku poetics place a high value on reader response—sharing the imagined experience of a poem with others, including the writer. A variety of responses and associations is expected from a variety of readers. The joy of haiku is in sharing this variety of reader responses, and, of course, one possible response is to write a haiku in response to a previously enjoyed haiku. In other words, this approach values the linking process—connecting to haiku others have written before, yet creating new haiku that shift beyond previous haiku. As collaborative readers and writers of haiku, we revisit haiku from the past and collaborate in the process of making them new for the present in our own time and culture. This social collaborative process works within the form of haiku as well. The cut or “kireju” of haiku provides a miniature version of the linking process. A haiku begins with one image or phrase that stimulates a reader to anticipate what is coming next. In that silent pause between the first and second part of the haiku, the reader enters into the haiku’s space, imagining and feeling the initial associations provided. Then the reader finishes reading the second part of the haiku and considers how that image or phrase alters their previous expectations. The reader then re-reads the entire haiku, letting it expand out into possible readings, associations, memories and points of felt significance.
The role of the reader in transactional haiku is to be a co-creative, collaborative partner. The writer starts the process and the reader completes or fulfills the creation of meaning or feelings elicited from a haiku. The reader is expected to be a socially responsible partner, entering a haiku’s gift of shared consciousness. The transactional haiku poetics depend on the active cooperation of a good reader. To be a good reader requires a certain amount of trust and expectation that both writer and reader understand and appreciate the arts of reading and writing haiku.
Literary Haiku Poetics (the following is my note)
This essay deals with haiku which have no factual basis derived from a real life situation. They are totally imagined. Because we more often than not have no way of knowing they are imagined except for the writer letting us know that fact, I see no point in dwelling on the merits or pitfalls of Literary haiku. As Dr. Brooks points out in his essay, a literary haiku could be a subclass of either one of the other three.