Mile, Jazz, Haiku and traversing the impediments to artistic flow
Upon returning to academia I discovered my ability to write artistically, cross culturally, multi lingually, and especially, poetically (haiku & ehi (english haiku idioms)) was greatly diminished, akin to suffering from writers block. It took until the end of my three week xmas break for me to recover the poetic inflections in my writing, just in time to return back to school. It almost seems to me that writing in academia where one must be so unilaterally arbitrary, so definitively opinionated, and technically entrenched, while strictly adhering to MLA or APA techniques, seems to require one to access other segments of the brain, segments which when used in such fixed and narrow minded ways temporarily constricts the artistic cadence in my writing, my poetry.
Here's what Miles Davis said about this artistic phenomena in his autobiography. "A lot of the old guys thought that if you went to school it would make you play like you were white (like a symphonic musician). Or, if you learned something from theory, then you would lose the feeling in your playing. ... I couldn't believe that all them guys like Bird (Charlie Parker) ... Wouldn't ... Go to the public library and borrow scores by all those great composers, like Stravinsky, Alban, Berg, Prokofiev. I wanted to see what was going on in all of music. Knowledge is freedom and ignorance is slavery."
Here the professor and musician Ian Carr writes of this same phenomena in his book "Miles Davis: The Definitive Biography". "Unlike Parker's, Miles phrases have very little of the blues in them at this stage in his career. The long periods of formal instruction in western instrumental techniques seem to have drained the tonal inflections of the blues from his playing."
I concur completely. I believe that developing the capacity to turn on and off your intellect, and your artistic sides, your intuition, etc enables one to better integrate them and create, learn, and even collaborate with others on a higher level. If you stay mired in just your little social, intellectual, or peer group, and don't periodically enter and exit a plethora of awkward and novel experiences and interactions, then I believe you stunt your growth as a person and thus as an artists. This is what I fear most people do and why so few truly excel at their endeavors. Being good at something is one thing, but being able to innovate "beyond what you know" is a whole nother. You can't innovate or be great at something unless you gain exposure to what is different, and put yourself in positions where you are not in control, where you have to humble yourself and your ego to others at points throughout your development.
To me all of this is also akin to the way many artist seek out isolation from time to time or periods in their lives; Thoreau did it, Miles did so for several years, I did so after returning from Japan. My book "Up the Mtn" was written during a three year period of living in my little hovel, in one of Oregon's National Parks, and here James Baldwin speaks of it.
"I had to go through a time of isolation in order to come to terms with who and what I was, as distinguished from all the things I'd been told I was." (James Baldwin, in his Paris Review interview with Jordan Elgrably, 1984).
Unifying intersectional discord within english haiku idioms
How we conceptualize the world dictates how we contextualize nature, our past, our present, and our future. Just as our literary frame of reference conceptually, dictates how we contextualize English haiku idioms (ehi). We will most likely never come to a uniform consensus as to what defines haiku, although we can become unified in acknowledging some of its key components like kigo and kireji. These key components can act as the common threads that unify and personify haiku, all without dictating a uniform definition of haiku.
I've written this essay in response to Mr. Wilson's essay "The Colonization of Japanese Haiku"
(simply haiku journal.com) My purpose in doing so is to engage the haiku community worldwide in a discussion. A discussion that speaks to haiku's past, present, and future. A discussion that focuses in on some of the intersecting issues brought forth in Mr. Wilson's essay. These intersectional issues are presently hampering haiku. I will put forth solutions that might contribute to rectifying these issues. I will also speak to what has caused the decline in the quality and misconception of what defines Traditional-Classical (T-C) Haiku today. Most significantly, I will speak to what the process of elevating the quality of haiku written today might look like.
Non-linear and intersectional issues concerning haiku
I will focus on five of the many issues that I believe are hampering haiku today. The first issue
is one also addressed in Mr. Wilson's essay. This issue is the colonization which enables the Anglo-
West’s (A-W) titular reappropriation of haiku, which has somewhat gentrified haiku as an art form. The
second issue is our dysfunctional and or maladaptive perception of nature. The third issue is the inability
of many to differentiate senryu from haiku. The fourth and key issue stems from our sociocultural
discomfort in acknowledging the essential role kigo plays in defining nature in traditional haiku.
Accepting, acknowledging, and literally coexisting with, rather than merely tolerating the essence of
haiku goes beyond the three F's of western sociocultural studies, folklore, food, & fashion. The fifth and
final issue pertains to the sub vocal reading of haiku, at least initially.
I believe Mr. Wilson's essay conveys a well thought out overview of how and why haiku has been
declining since the Meiji Era. I concur entirely with the factors and issues Mr Wilson put forth in regards
to haiku's decline. His work prompted me to delve deeper into these five intersectional issues I've
addressed in this essay.
The systematic cultural reappropriation & suppression of people’s collective notions of self, nature, & haiku
Haiku, it's "a cicada shell of its former incarnation, verging on extinction in the area of
world credibility as a serious literary genre". (Robert D. Wilson's online essay "The Colonization
of Japanese Haiku" on the Simply Haiku Journal website).
So why are English Haiku Idioms (ehi) and more specifically hokku/haiku in particular suffering
from literary gentrification, while teetering on the verge of extinction? Well some publishers, scholars,
critics, poets, and Mr. Wilson suggest it's due to "the effects and depth of the colonization of the Japanese
language and cultural memory via its adoption of the German-based university system; a colonization that
would, in time, water down the depth and aesthetic integrity of hokku". (Donald Keene, "Dawn in the
“Gandhi understood this ... the systematic and complete elimination or suppression of the native
... language ... of one people by another. Even though the people in question might be given material
benefits through education ... if there is systematic destruction of their ... relationship with nature.
Stripping people of their collective notion of self is a prelude to ... the process of colonization ...
(which) goes on today under the name of 'development' wherein success is measured by the criteria of
Westernization. ... Gandhi fought against this form of colonization as much as against its material and
political manifestations … Although he was not against Christianity.” (Excerpt From: Malhotra, Rajiv.
Of course neither Gandhi nor Malhotra were referencing Japanese Poetry, still their thoughts in
regards to colonization and its effects on native languages and material benefits via western education,
and our relationship to nature are all relevant to this discussion. Gandhi and Malhotra did so not in
opposition to Abrahamic religions, but as a part of an effort to constructively critique them, alongside
their own Dharmic belief systems. They did so in large part to prompt discussions with other interested
parties. I am using their words to do much the same with haiku. In doing so I'm not suggesting that Japan
has had its language eliminated; still it's hard to deny it hasn't been suppressed (and somewhat gentrified)
in regards to its adaptation in the literate Western World.
Much like Chinese Characters this suppression is most evident in regards to the decline of young
Chinese, Japanese, and Korean’s ability to remember the stroke order of their character based writing
systems. These systematic collateral casualties of the A-W world occur as advancements in smartphone
technology erodes and suppresses as Gandhi put it "peoples collective notion of self, their ethnic and
cultural identity". Yes I am aware you can input characters with keystrokes, and even awkwardly do so
with finger strokes. Still this process of gentrified finger stroking is prohibitively cumbersome, and
restricts the ease of use that so personifies the smartphone experience for native english users. Thus
instead of going thru numerous impedimentary steps to finger stroke in their characters in the correct
order, most give in to convenience and dictate or type in their characters. This subtle, seemingly
inconsequential change in behavior, inputting characters via a keyboard or vocally, rather than finger
stroking characters into a text is an example of what Rajiv Malhotra was referring to when he stated
"Cultural appropriation gives a false impression of equalization.” (Excerpt From: Malhotra, Rajiv. “Being
Different.” iBooks.). This cultural appropriation is also evident in how english mukigo/senryu is
becoming indistinguishable from kigo/haiku.
This is also an example of how Chinese, Japanese, and Korean peoples receive "material benefit"
via the "suppression of their native language" (Gandhi). Take this logic a step further and it becomes
intersectionally apparent that the smartphone maker Samsung might be characterized as having been
gentrified and or self colonized too. I would suggest that Samsung has been gentrified and or self
colonized in regards to how it’s been assimilated into the global financial market (“developmental
success”). As a result Samsung financially thrives (”material gain”), in exchange for contributing to the
intersectional suppression of their “native language” (Korean/Hangul). This intersectional suppression of
their "native language" becomes deceptively apparent, in regards to how Samsung coerces it's native
smartphone users to suppress their culturally unique way of stroke ordered character driven writing, in
lieu of the A-W's Android/iPhone keyboard driven writing model.
It may not seem that the suppression of this culturally unique native language on smartphones
relates to haiku, but I maintain they correlate intersectionally. They correlate in regards to the systemic
intersectional suppression of the Chinese, Japanese, and Korean Peoples "collective notion of self". This
notion of self is subtly suppressed when character based writing is culturally appropriated for keyboard
based writing on smartphones; much the same occurs when mukigo/senryu is appropriated in place of
kigo/haiku. These forms of A-W reappropriation, and native language suppression intersectionally
correlate to cause discord; discord in how people culturally identify with their unique collective notion of
self. This reappropriation and suppression also creates discord for everyone, intellectually and literally.
Whether or not the A-W world is doing so intentionally is irrelevant to this discussion. The fact that all of
these issues (colonization, gentrification, the systemic suppression and or reappropriation of native
language, our collective notions of self, cultural identity, and our relationships with nature) intersect and
correlate with one another is what needs to be understood by writers and readers alike, in order to rectify
the discord which has been occurring in regards to haiku today.
Still the issue of Japan's colonization whether self imposed by itself or externally imposed by the
A-W world, is only one of the intersecting root causes behind the discord and decline of ehi (sedoka,
kataota, katauta, renga, choka, wakka, tanka, hokku, haiku, haiga, poekuagery, etc) like haiku. In Wilson's
essay he briefly touched on the fact that haiku began its decline during the Meiji Era, prior to the arrival
of the black ships. In this essay I’ll take this hypothesis several steps further.
On Poekuagery, Rhythm, & Polyrhythmic Sound in Bebop Jazz & Haiku (EHI)
Practicing a form of poetry that is so succinct is part of what causes haiku to be perceived as so deceptively simplistic and rudimentary to many of the uninitiated, just as with abstract art. Also Haiku can have a strong spiritual component much like jazz. This spiritual connection to nature in haiku, never mind placing nature as the divine centerpiece of a haiku poem is what adds to the Anglo-West's (A-W) misconceptions and misinterpretations of haiku as a form of poetry lacking sophistication. Although "the more subjects you add to a haiku the more you dilute it's spiritual potency" (Bukusai Ashagawa). It reminds me of something Miles Davis once wrote, "the smoother you play a trumpet, the more it sounds like a trumpet when you amplify it. It's like mixing paint ... Too many colours you get nothing but mud" (Miles Davis). Although jazz much like haiku can be practiced without its spiritual component. Still for me haiku as well as "music has always been healing for me and spiritual." (Miles Davis)
Haiku or Jazz without their spiritual components are still technically haiku & jazz. Although it is when haiku is missing not its spiritual component but a connection to nature as its primary subject matter that it ceases to be haiku, and is instead actually senryu or gendai haiku in Japan. Still, senryu can be spiritual as well.
Haiku today practiced outside of Japan and sometimes even inside is an art form much like jazz that was and is a cross cultural artistic endeavor. Haiku much like the polyrhythmic sounds of Bebop was and is created by the mixing and blending of at least two distinct cultures. In regards to (Bebop) jazz it was Western Classical and (predominately East African) African drumming, and its use of Polyrhythmic Sound. In regards to haiku its the result of Japan's isolation, it's cultural homogenization, it's spiritual identity, it's multi linguistic qualities, and it's unique artistic aesthetic, an aesthetic that is in regards to haiku indivisible from nature. The polyrhythmic features found in jazz are also akin to the literary characteristic or trait of a form of poetry called poekuagery.
"In bebop, several non-western concepts of music were brilliantly reasserted. Its most striking characteristic is (an) intense, polyrhythmic drive to which even the melodies are
In other words, the dynamic rhythms of melodies are organically and intricately interwoven with the pulse and multiple accents of the rhythm section, which is typical of an African way of making music." (Carr Ian)
This stream of melodic "notes , wide interval leaps, displaced accents, and asymmetrical phrases, present a rhythmic vitality so foreign to American listeners" ... even today " that It drew frightened and hostile comments from all sides. Even established musicians - no doubt because they felt threatened - attacked it." (Carr Ian)
The way A-W Society, especially music critics threatened and then attacked bebop for its (predominant) use of (African) polyrhythmic sound and subservient (white) melodies is much akin to what has been occurring with haiku and other English Haiku Idioms (EHI) in the west today.
What all of these art forms have in common, jazz, classical, East African Drumming, haiku, and abstract art, is that they all "originally came from someone's spirit" (Carr Ian Miles Davis: The Definitive Biography).
It is much the same with haiku. In haiku we have displaced or incomplete sentences. Haiku features fragmented syntax, and incorrect grammar. Haiku's evolving use of pragmatic particles for kireji is an ever evolving phenomena. Much like in jazz these pragmatic particles are used as Miles would to create space between his notes and stretch out the composition, so that fewer syllables are required to say more with less.To paraphrase Ian Carr from an excerpt of his biography of Miles Davis, Haiku draws "frightened and hostile comments from all sides Even established poets and academia, because they feel threatened."
"A song ... with lyrics tells you what to think. ... with an instrumental composition you can think what-ever you want". (Miles Davis)
The technical, artistic, lyrical, & sometimes spiritual challenges (include haiga with it's visual component as well) effecting these ehi (english haiku idioms) are intersectional and multi layered. Creating ehi, especially haiga is akin to creating polyrhythmic sound. All of ehi's components must stand on their own merit, while simultaneously complimenting every other.
With ehi as with jazz as Miles suggested we initially "tell the reader what to think". We are creating a starting point for an artistic dialogue between the writer and the reader. After doing so we must leave it open ended; all of which may or may not be apparent to the reader depending on their level of familiarity with the art form. As writer we do so with our words, ambiguity, space, pragmatic particles, and the cutting/kireji - or the level and style of contradictoriness we communicate to the reader with.
Then we leave the poem open ended so that the reader can seamlessly pick up our literary baton and take things a step further in their minds eye. This is where our poems acts as Miles suggested as a "instrumental (or literary) composition", which as he suggests allows the reader to "think what-ever you want" with your minds eye.
Without imagery poems that are more spiritual in nature tend to have fewer subjects, while those more centered in non-spiritual or secular subjects tend to have multiple subjects, This tends to be true whether those subjects reference nature or humanity.
Incorporating original poems and imagery, originally known as haiga:
When we incorporate visual imagery things become even more complex. This inclusion of imagery in the form of haiga most closely resembles Miles's polyrhythmic sound. The haiga image has to compliment the poem and vice versa, all without overwhelming one another. How? By communicating specificity with it's imagery, imagery that act as visual lyrics that tell the reader what is being communicated, both in the image and the poem. This is akin to as Miles put it "telling you what to think".
Or the image compliments the poem and vice versa with its more abstract-ambiguity, which also creates a wider spiritual opening. This abstractly-ambiguous opening acts as a visual catalyst with which as Miles put it, "you can think what-ever you want".
Incorporating established haiga or imagery
For instance writing poetry specifically to accompany the woodblock prints of say Hokusai or Hiroshige is called jikuzo-shi. Here the image is created first to "tell you what to think", then the jikuzo-shi poem is created as an after thought to reinforces the print. It does so by speaking of what is transpiring within the image. This is rarely if ever spiritual in nature.
Honka-dori: Long story short, Honkadori are created from works that are derived from haiku's literary cannon, essential poems. Honkadori is akin to the way Jazz Musicians derive from their cannon of Jazz Standards, and create their own cover versions or reinterpretations. It may or may not tell us what to think, and may or may not be spiritual in nature.
Miles Davis on living-traveling overseas for the first time in 1949.
"I had never felt that way in my life. It was the freedom of being in France and being treated like a human being, like someone important."
Paris was where I understood that all white people weren't the same, that some weren't prejudiced and others were. I had kind of known this after I met Gil Evans and some other people, but I really came to know it in Paris. It was an important thing for me to know and it made me conscious of what was happening around me politically. . . . It was (difficult) for me to come back to the bullshit white people put a black person through in this country.
In Paris - shit, whatever we played over there, right or wrong, was cheered, accepted. That ain't good either . . . We came back over here and couldn't even find no work. International stars and couldn't get jobs. White musicians who were copying my Birth of Cool thing were getting the jobs. Man, that shit hurt me to the quick. . . .Twenty three years old in 1949 . . . Started to drift . . . I didn't care anymore . . . What got me strung out (on heroin) was the depression I felt when I got back to America." (Davis Miles, MILES: The Autobiography, Simon & Schuster, 1989)
64 years later, in 2013. In the Ashibetsu Mountains just northeast of Sapporo Japan. I was on a six month paid artist in residency. Much like Miles, whatever I created right or wrong sold out. That wasn't good either, although it gave me a sense of unbridled confidence, self determination, and sparked an unrelenting artistic drive in me; I would need it once I began facing the artistic disappointments and setbacks I would encounter upon returning to the states.
In Tokyo & Sapporo much like Miles in Paris, I too was treated as Miles put it "like a human being, like someone important". I too had to then "come back to the bullshit white people put a black person through in this country".
Much like Miles upon my return "I came back and couldn't even find no (poetry writing) work". To paraphrase Miles "Man, that shit hurt me to the quick . . . Forty eight years old in 2013 . . . started to drift . . . I didn't care anymore . . . What got me strung out on living alone in the woods like a hermit was the depression I felt when I got back to America." For me living in the woods was my form of coping, my heroin, and still is.
Living, hiking, meditating, writing, and photographing in the woods, was and is for me my euphoric heroin like escape, it helps me cope, only in a healthy, but nonetheless addictive manner. What will happen to me when I can't get my backcountry fix no more?
"People all over the world ... That's the barometer of what your doing; not the critics; the people. They don't have no hidden agenda or hidden motives. They paid their money (in my case to view my books & prints) to see you, and if they don't like what you are doing, they're going to let you know, and quick" (Miles Davis)