Editor's Note: This is the last of a three part series entitled Haiku in English. The first two parts will be found in the Simply Haiku archives, Vol. 5, Nos. 3 and 4 (Autumn and Winter 2007). They deal with haiku written by the Imagists and the Beat Poets, respectively. This final part deals with the haiku of the young Michael McClintock, the current President of the Tanka Society of America and former Tanka Editor of Simply Haiku.
For the convenience of readers, we have retained the page numbers for this essay.
Haiku in English
by Barbara Louise Ungar
IV. MICHAEL McCLINTOCK:
NEW DIRECTIONS IN AMERICAN HAIKU
"The problem is in words, but the answer is in perception."
In the early nineteen-sixties, Ginsberg may have been right to declare that Kerouac was the only true American haiku poet. But since then interest in haiku has steadily grown. A handful of haiku magazines, haiku societies and contests, small press editions of original haiku collections, a bibliography of haiku in Western languages, critical and academic attention: these are the outward signs of an intense inner activity. Haiku in English has matured to the point of leading a healthy life of its own, independent of its Japanese parent. Among the group of modern American haiku poets, one can detect not only differences in style due to individual voices, but differences in theory about what haiku is or should be. The fact that there are different "schools" of haiku poets (although nowhere near as formal or rigidly defined as in Japan) hotly debating various problems relating to haiku, is an indication of the health of the genre.
There are the religious haiku poets, first, who believe that haiku is an expression of their Zen. James Hackett, one of the better-known and more established haiku poets in this country, says that
Haiku became not just a form of literature or a literary pursuit but a Way of living awareness, an art of Zen. Although I was trained in Western philosophy, the philosophical values of Taoism and Zen have always been the basis and reason for my poetry, and thus I regard the quality of muga (non-ego) as inseparable from, and indispensable to, living the way of haiku.40
In contrast, James Tipton claims simply to be "Interested (particularly considering this time of too many words) in the possibility of discovering new energy through words put together with precision and emotion."41 Another poet, Geraldine Clinton Little, explains that "Haiku's appeal for me is its 'world in
a grain of sand' philosophy, the here and now of it."42 The haiku poets may also be divided along lines of formal considerations. There are few who still insist that English haiku be composed of three lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables, but the various experiments with form have been wide and interesting. There are haiku written in rhymed couplets, in three or four lines, some written in three vertical columns, such as the haiku of Tao Li, and haiku with a completely free form, experimenting with placing words on the page like concrete poetry.
The poet I have chosen to look at in detail is a young Californian by the name of Michael McClintock. He has experimented widely, and we can watch his poetry evolving over the six or seven years since he first began publishing in haiku periodicals. He has also written several haibun in English, and a number of critical essays and reviews of other poets' haiku collections. McClintock asserts that "My intentions are primarily to contribute to English poetry a texture not there before, to explore perception in language and advance the uses and values of efficient language, and to enjoy myself."43
Beginning with McClintock's earlier haiku, up to the publication of his first book, Light Run, in 1971, the poems are fairly traditional. They reveal a freshness and wonderfully fine perception, and an ability to capture this in sharp images. For example, these two haiku from Light Run:
and a bird's far-off song,
enfolds the bridge . . .
a loon laughs
then flits off;
the drizzling rain
These two poems show a mastery of many haiku techniques. There is internal comparison: the mist in one, and the rain in the other, are heightened and brought to life by the juxtaposition of a bird's call. There is synesthesia: the sound of the bird in each poem mingles with both the sight and the feeling of the weather. And there is fragrance: the elements of each poem enhance and complement each other to create a total feeling, which is quite different in each of the two poems. Both create a scene with utter economy of language but the moods evoked by the two scenes are lonely, yet with very different tones. The first is lyrical and serene, while the second is eerie, desolate, disquieting.
Another technique that McClintock uses effectively in many of the poems in Light Run is the season word. In each of the following haiku he introduces a striking perception to create the mood of the season.
the autumn wind
the midnight snowfall
jumped into it:
McClintock is a versatile poet within the restrictions of his chosen form, and in his haiku is able to capture many different moods, many different sorts of perceptions. One of my favorites has the immediate excitement of discovery, as if the world were seen for the first time, which reminds me of a haiku by Onitsura, a contemporary of Basho.
a poppy ...
a field of poppies!
the hills blowing with poppies!
Cherry blossoms: more,
and more now. Birds have
two legs, horses have four!
koro tori ashi ni
hon uma shi hon
In her review of Light Run, Virginia Young praises him warmly, writing that "McClintock has the gift for involving the reader emotionally in the poem. It would not be difficult to believe that one's emotional reaction to the poem is precisely the same as the poet's at the instant of perception. . . . In addition to transfusing the haiku moment from writer to reader, McClintock stimulates his readers to think. But not by preaching. Without emphasizing the intellect he stirs ours, as in:
by a single cloud,
and letting it pass ... "44
In this ability to enter into a moment experientially, and to transmit it directly to the reader, McClintock and Kerouac have some similarities. Their haiku have the same sort of immediate emotional appeal. But already McClintock may be seen to be more concerned with technique and stylistic experimentation, while Kerouac's poems are more blunt, using very plain colloquial speech. For example, compare this haiku of McClintock's to the haiku by Kerouac about the winterfly:
dead cat ...
to the pouring rain
In my medicine cabinet
the winter fly
has died of old age.
In Kerouac's poem, there is a sense of personal empathy with the fly, and identification with it. McClintock's poem is slightly more removed, with a philosophic acceptance of death as part of life. This is due in part to McClintock's less strictly grammatical, more concrete use of language.
The dead-pan humor in this haiku by McClintock is also reminiscent of Kerouac:
long summer day . . .
my neighbor's bull,
at it again
Beginning with some of the poems in Light Run, McClintock becomes increasingly experimental with both subject matter and his use of language. He approaches difficult topics such as sex and war. He uses words in a more concrete fashion; that is, he is less concerned with regular syntactic patterns, and places words on the page almost as if they were pieces of a montage. Much of the power of the following two poems derives from the unusual placing of words on the page, the unexpected line breaks.
letting my tongue
deeper into the cool
inside ... until her
It is difficult to write an erotic poem in under ten words, but through his unusual use of words, McClintock can do it. Attempting to write a haiku about the Vietnam war is an equally ambitious move. To express such an emotionally charged subject in so few words, without emotion getting in the way, is extremely difficult, but McClintock manages it well. If we look at some poems on Vietnam from Light Run, and then at four poems on the same subject written in 1973, we can see clearly the evolutions of style his writing went through in a period of several years.
VIETNAM: FIVE POEMS (from Light Run)
a drizzling rain
washing their blood
into their blood
tonight. . . wishing
the lightning were lightning,
the thunder, thunder
outside of night—
VIETNAM: POEMS (1973)
comes to taste . . .
go the guns,
Some of the differences between the two series are immediately apparent. The later poems are shorter. Words are used more concretely, dropped on the page in unorthodox, startling arrangements. This enhances the surreal effect. The later poems are also more bluntly experiential. It is not only that they are shorter, but there is less of a narrator's voice. In the earlier poems, there is someone "wishing," making us conscious of a suffering human presence. In the later poems, the anguish is conveyed more directly and forcefully to the reader by the absence of any narrator's experience. They are written so impersonally that they have the quality of combat photo-journalism, bringing the reader right there among the wounded and the dead. The poet is merely our means of transportation to the scene; any value judgments are left to the reader to make. In the last poem in the series, the feeling in his bowels as the guns explode is conveyed with one word, forcing us to experience that feeling ourselves. By leaving so much unsaid, these poems convey the horror and shock of war as successfully as any I have read. It is worthwhile remembering Basho's words here: "The haiku that reveals seventy to eighty percent of its subject is good. Those that reveal fifty to sixty percent we never tire of."45
McClintock's later haiku continue in this direction. They are generally shorter, more surreal, bluntly experiential, using words more concretely and less grammatically. Some of his experiments seem almost to be returns to the sort of fragments and non sequiturs found in TRIP TRAP. These two poems are from a 1974 issue of Modern Haiku:
the sun lifts
opens its small mouth
really can't you hear
the moon in a pan
In McClintock's most recent collection of poetry, Man With No Face, published in 1974, this trend continues until he seems to break out of the haiku form completely. First there are haiku in his most spare, surreal and effective style, such as:
Or the haunting poem from which the title of the book is taken:
with no face ...
the autumn rain
Besides the haiku, however, McClintock moves into a five-line form, utilizing all the spareness and precision of his haiku. Another haiku poet, Elizabeth Searle Lamb, in her review of the book, calls it
a body of poems that are at the same time both less than and more than haiku. Less than in the sense of reduced image, increased abstraction; more than in the opportunity the perceptive reader has for penetrating deeply into the persona of these poems, and in a kind of relaxed feeling of tone and of space.46
An example of this five-line kind of poem is the following:
never grow old
today met a kid
said to me
This poem, like the others in Man With No Face, uses language in the condensed, suggestive way that McClintock has learned from writing haiku
Each word is essential to the whole, implying a great deal more than is said. But McClintock is no longer attempting to write haiku here. He expresses different sorts of perceptions than the haiku moment. He uses means other than imagery to communicate them, such as the skillful manipulation of idiom in the poem above. McClintock is always concerned with exploring new possibilities in poetry: it is quite possible that having explored haiku fully, he will adapt certain techniques from it and move on to create new poetic forms.
One other direction in which McClintock has taken haiku is to experiment with writing haibun. There are few attempts at this form in English; McClintock has written three, published in 1971 and 1972. I have defined haibun in the introduction as prose written in the manner of haiku, usually a short sketch ending with one or more haiku. Earl Miner's description of the interrelation of haiku and prose in Japanese poetic diaries, such as Basho's, may be applied to McClintock's haibun with very interesting results. Miner makes the generalization that
the diaries combine, or poise, two formal energies: the ceaseless pressure of time implied by the diary form itself and the enhancement of the moment, or related moments, usually demonstrated in poetry. It is the flow of time rather than the concatenation of events or architecture of design that is important, and the sudden glowing of poetic experience . . . that gives the diaries their sense of depth of experience.
Poetry and time are also the two chief thematic bases of the diaries. After prose has said all it can, or all that it is decent for it to attempt, poems rise to have their say.46
Although McClintock's haibun are not written in diary form, the generalizations made above hold true for his pieces. Each one is set in a particular place: Los Angeles, Death Valley, or the heights of the Sierra Nevada. Each one follows the passing of a short period of time, from dawn to nightfall, or from afternoon to the next morning. This passage of time is emphasized strongly in the prose sections, and indeed may be seen as one of two formal energies unifying each of the pieces. The other may be said to be the enhancement of the moment through poetry: it is as if the clock stopped for the flashing of a poem, timelessly, then resumed its ticking.
The form of McClintock's haibun is several paragraphs of prose, from about 50 to 100 words in length, interspersed with one to three haiku. The haiku are generally good enough to stand alone, but they mean infinitely more read in context. The prose itself is unorthodox: each paragraph might be called a prose poem alone, but can only be truly understood as part of the haibun.
The prose is written in long streams of run-on sentences punctuated only
by commas and three dots. Recurring images of wind or water, in conjunction with a continual noting of the changing position of the sun and/or time of day, convey successfully a sense of the flow of time. The prose rushes along fluidly in a manner reminiscent of Kerouac's spontaneous writing. It has the same feeling of having been written all at once, poured straight from the writer's mind to the waiting page. Yet it is more carefully constructed and poetic than most of Kerouac's prose, more self-conscious as well. McClintock pushes the limits of the distinction between prose and poetry, as did Amy Lowell in her early experiments with "polyphonic prose." Both poets employ typically poetic techniques such as alliteration, onomatopoeia, repetition and rhythm in their prose. McClintock's is, 1 believe, more successful, because of the alternation of these prose passages with haiku, which provides a sharp focus and a contrast for the prose. His prose also benefits from his use of certain haiku techniques: the imagery is at once sharp, crystal-cut, and suggestive, and not a superfluous word is included.
Let us look first at Solstice, which is about experiencing the onset of winter alone in a cabin somewhere in the Sierra Nevada. No overt mention is made of the narrator's presence in the midst of what he describes, but some of the details transmit an awareness of an experiencing persona.
Section 1 introduces the central images and themes of the piece. Wind and snow are used throughout as symbols of movement, flux, and change on the one hand; of stillness, eternity, and the void on the other. To convey the feeling of motion, the word "wind" appears three times. There is also a water-motif established through the sibilance of lines such as "streaming down steep slopes" and "in waves like tidal seawalls the cold of the solstice breaks," and frequent use of the present participle and verbs such as "streaming," "flying," "shivering," "leaping," "rush," "sweep," and "wash." In opposition to this turbulence of wind and water in motion is placed the cold, the stillness of snow and ice. In the second paragraph of this section McClintock places himself within the scene, alone in a cabin at noon, trying to build a fire, as
round the house,
flurry of snow
Section 2 begins as "The winds drop, the snow-banners fall back." again using these two symbols of wind and snow to signal a decrescendo of activity. Everything comes to a standstill, ominously, as a storm breaks. Again, in the second paragraph of the section he places himself in the scene, "with books, paper and ink, ready for a week's storm-enforced solitude." He meditates on the scene around him: "the swirling, shifting whites of winter, page without words, blank silence that sings, movement that is changeless, expressive of nothing ... looking out, seeing inward ... there is all color in whiteness...
no thought is comparable. . . ." The scene becomes a metaphor for the nature of reality. Wind and snow images have combined to represent flux in stillness, quiet in motion—any number of paradoxes one can reel off trying to get at that same awareness, which is what the haiku that follows does beautifully:
the trees erased, the tea
In Section 3 the two constant signs, snow and wind, signal a change to nighttime, as "Wind again rising, the snowfall thins toward dusk." The mood changes as, with words like "pale wraiths," "wisker," "demon," "flicker," and "tattered," an eerie feeling creeps into the narrative. All this converges on the poems that end this section, giving them an unearthly power and uncanniness:
Just that moment's
horned owl sitting
above the shadows
The fourth section is a kind of concluding longer poem, yet written in the mood of haiku. It utilizes all of the imagery which has been building throughout the haibun, and which gives it a depth and reverberation it would not have on its own:
The mountains soundless under the night sky of winter.
Listening, one enters the depth of snow.
Yesterday, the last stellar jay flew westward to the foothills;
Tonight, the solstice moon just rising.
If we "decode" the symbols in the poem with the key provided in the rest of the haibun, the first line presents the void, the negation of everything. It is a winter night: there is no sound, no warmth, no motion and no light. In the second line, the reader, or the poet, enters into this void, the snow. In the third line the last living creature leaves the persona in utter isolation. The event that all of this leads up to, the reward, is no more and no less than the solstice moon rising in its full power and awesomeness, perceived in its totality. Thus only through becoming one with the void in quiet isolation can one hope to
perceive true reality. But McClintock never states his message: all is communicated, in haiku fashion, through images which ask the reader's participation to complete them.
Another very different sort of haibun is Los Angeles. Here is even less narratorial presence; as a result, in some ways the prose becomes more direct and powerful. Los Angeles begins with a passage on afternoon in the city. The central image is one of breath, or, ironically, the lack of breath:
highways strangle concrete knots around the throats of a million white collars damp with office air-conditioning conditioning ... the city relieves its architectured pain, exhales into the wide spaces of the San Fernando and San Gabriel Valleys a poison cloud ... empties its carbonic lungs on Pacific wind currents, seaward, in red layers on a falling sun ...
The city, with its man-made ugliness, strangles its inhabitants and prevents their breathing. Its own breath is the opposite of life-giving breath, it is death itself.
The next passage describes evening with wasteland imagery, primarily the antithesis of rain, as the antithesis of breath functions in the first section:
a garden of leaves dark with a strange silt, plastic and ash sifted in air lightly onto the hibiscus months without rain, the tinkle of cocktails, ice and cracked wind bells over fluent talk ...
Instead of rain there is smog falling, instead of water there are cocktails and ice, the garden is a wasteland. The next two sections continue through city night scenes full of images of falling and sinking. The final section describes dawn, again reversed to become the antithesis of what dawn usually means:
Light is an orange sound sputtering in motors choked with crud of endless mornings the same, appointed at seven, unrecovered, uncleaned from the last awakening alarm one day a year ago beside the rumpled sheets yellowed with a week's uneasy hot sleep, hot kisses, and sleep ...
catching that tail-end
of a dream ...
last day of summer
another time gone.
This final poem is given its power by all that goes before it. The passing of time is felt inexorably throughout the piece. Emptiness, futility, and a vague uneasiness are implied by the repetitive rhythms of the prose, and by the negative images that recur. The poem captures one moment in which we realize, too late, how many moments flow by without capture, and how empty they can be. The complexity approached here is greater than that of Solstice. Both poems and prose work together to deliver a message about the barren reality of modern urban life, which cannot be paraphrased in one statement.
In his haibun McClintock manages to deal with much more complex subjects than haiku can handle alone, yet retains the essential haiku mode of perception and expression. The language is precise, suggestive, and direct. The pieces transmit their messages through images; there is no obtrusive narrator summarizing or judging the experiences presented. Prose passages and haiku do not repeat or explain each other, so that the reader must enter in and complete the leap from one section to the next, much as he must connect the various elements within one haiku. Utilizing haiku itself, and haiku techniques which are incorporated into the prose, McClintock creates his own version of haibun, demonstrating some of the many and varied possibilities of this genre in English.
McClintock is more than a poet and an experimenter; he is also an active critic and theorist concerning haiku and literature in general. Although he does not expound in any one essay a total and coherent critical outlook, we may piece together, from various articles on theory and criticism of other poets in the haiku magazines, his views on the nature of poetry and criticism in general, and haiku more specifically.
In an essay called "The Tyranny of Form" McClintock proposes that both art and life are organic, not rational: "We do not live in a Lockean universe: the analogy of the clock, of the timepiece, has been thrown out and replaced by the organic tree . . . The universe is not a machine." As art and life are, for McClintock, "two aspects of the same thing," what holds true in analysis of the universe necessarily follows for analysis of art. Neither may be dissected logically and made to fit into neat categories. Therefore he feels that the form of art can never be set or dictated, for "one does not grow a tree well, nor grow a tree straight, by building a roof over it."48
Art is oblivious to whatever set of rules and forms the critic may apply to it, and continues to evolve and grow according to its own inner sense. Here we may recognize some of the basic tenets of New Criticism. The poem is a microcosm, responsible only to itself, and must be judged according to its own internal criteria. McClintock continues,
Always, we must first regard the art object, the haiku poem, as an intrinsic unit bound to obey none but its own self-imposed laws. It is, like all literature, a linguistic texture that cannot be judged
without prejudice, and cannot be created without inhibition, if at the same time we impose on it—in our judging and in our creating—rules that can be no more than arbitrary, limited, and always matters of debate vulnerable to refutation.49
How then, can one judge literature? It is not the form that we must judge, by its adherence to certain arbitrary standards, but whether or not the form and the content, the pattern and the substance, work together in an organic fashion to create unity, shape, and density. In a good poem, the form will always grow out of the content: an experience will find its appropriate expression. And so, in judging any art, he declares that, "there is no final authority but the artist, and no final authority for the critic but the poem itself."50
Accompanying this New Critical stance is a distaste for academia, a mistrust of the entire process of intellectualization of art or nature. In this he joins Kerouac in his utter disrespect for established conventions. Kerouac once said, why bother to give interviews on the art of writing when his writing is one long self-interview, saying everything. As a haiku poet, McClintock has this same mistrust of words, words used in the everyday manner, as distorting the true nature of things. He places a very high value on silence and on the unsaid. While this seems compatible with, even necessary to, his role as haiku poet, it creates difficulties for him as critic. He apologizes, "Sometimes I feel that there is entirely too much said about haiku, to the exclusion of any sensible comprehension of what these poems are all about. It is almost impossible for me to talk about haiku and not immediately regret what I have just said, much less communicate something significant the poem in its far better way has not communicated."51
Yet McClintock recognizes the value, and even the necessity, of criticism, as we can see in his review of a collection of essays on the haiku by William J. Higginson. He writes, "The chief virtue of Mr. Higginson's contribution has not been the shedding of new light before an enlightened audience, but the literate presentation and application of familiar 20th century poetic and aestthetic principles before an unenlightened audience."52 He espouses Higginson's methodology of, as he calls it, practical criticism. Here criticism is applied directly to the poem, and in this way is kept individual, immediate, and tied to the reality of the poem itself, not floating off into the abstract realm of intellectualizations about the nature of criticism. When we look at McClintock's own criticism of his fellow haiku poets, this seems to be his methodology as well. He illustrates critical points with haiku of his own, or of the poet being reviewed. Commentary and poem are mutually supporting. I cannot overemphasize that for McClintock, the poem itself is of primary importance: he always insists that the reader get back to the poem, for that is what is worth talking about.
This being McClintock's view of literature and criticism in general, what does he say specifically about the haiku? We know that for him, form and content must work together and create each other, but how does the process work in actuality? In an essay called "Statement and Suggestion in Haiku," McClintock summarizes his theory about the way in which haiku works. He says that ambiguity is inherent in all verbal expression, but that haiku reduces this element and makes of it a virtue rather than a handicap, through use of concrete language, free allowance of varying response, and deliberate lack of intention or special meaning.
There are quite a few similarities between these explanations of the way that haiku works and the basic rules for Imagists as set forth by Amy Lowell more than fifty years earlier. What McClintock means by "concrete language" here is, I believe, equivalent to the Imagists' call for precision and clarity: it is a demand for words used with exactitude. By "the free allowance of varying response" he means that the poet presents specific objects or experiences which have led him to a certain response, but does not argue, assert, or judge this response. He hopes to lead the reader there himself, "by inviting him to undergo and to fulfill the poem rather than simply to read it."53 This dictum carries to an extreme the Imagist's fourth rule: "To present an Image (hence the name: "Imagist"). We are not a school of painters, but we believe that poetry should render particulars exactly and not deal in vague generalizations, however magnificent and sonorous... ."54 McClintock's 'lack of intention' may be equated with the Imagists' abhorrence of didacticism. He means that the poet should never include an intellectual response to the original experience, a "message" which he wants to convince anyone of: this sort of judgment is best left up to the reader.
The difference between McClintock's theory and Lowell's is primarily one of degree. McClintock carries much further the "free allowance of varying response" and "deliberate lack of intention or special meaning." Where Lowell is content not to preach or generalize overmuch, McClintock completely eradicates the narratorial presence, allowing no comment whatsoever. It becomes an ontological problem for him: he attempts to present a thing exactly as it is, so that the reader is utterly free to perceive it and respond to it. One can best illustrate this difference by comparing two haiku on the subject of war, one by Lowell and one by McClintock.
Perched upon the muzzle of a cannon
A yellow butterfly is slowly opening and shutting its wings.
comes to taste ...
Lowell uses an appropriate image to convey her message. Although it is not stated in general terms, it is implied unmistakably. McClintock simply brings the reader as close as possible to the experience itself. There is no message or special meaning. There is only the attempt to recreate reality as the poet perceived it.
I believe that it is this "free allowance of varying response" which makes haibun possible for McClintock. Only with poems left as open-ended as his haiku can the sort of linking with prose passages essential to haibun be effected. Poem and prose do not explain or summarize each other: rather, each recreates another experience, which, juxtaposed with its counterpart, becomes the sum total of what the piece tries to present.
Let us return to "Statement and Suggestion in Haiku." There McClintock believes that haiku makes a statement, but of a particular kind. It must present precisely a particular object or experience, but this statement cannot be assertive, judgmental, or argumentative. At the other extreme, it cannot say too much, or else there is nothing for the reader to complete. This is where suggestion comes in. Basho himself criticized one of his pupils for writing a haiku which said everything about its subject, leaving no room for imagination. A good haiku, then, must strike a balance between statement and suggestion. It must be ambiguous enough to invite the reader's participation, but clear enough to direct this participation. For if a haiku is too vague, McClintock warns,
then it invites to be figured out by the intellect rather than fulfilled by the undivided mind. Figuring out a thing and fulfilling it are two distinct processes. The former demands that the reader construct a harmony out of chaos (which would seem more properly the poet's work) while the latter demands that he complete the harmony that is already constructed or established (the poet's work being done).55
This is a crucial distinction, and one that is difficult for many Western readers to make. Unaccustomed to poetry which demands their participation, they criticize it as ambiguous, vague, and open-ended. But McClintock believes that, if the proper balance is found, this kind of poetry leads to another realm of thought entirely.
In haiku, images that are themselves concrete and limited lead us not only to a sharper perception of objects of sense, but to another, less definite, transcendental plane of experience, in which we perceive things not as separate and distinct only, but as distinct parts of a universal whole, an ultimate reality, a single ground ... What is explicit or concrete on the literal level leads to what is implicit on the supra-logical, non-literal level. And haiku operate simultaneously on both levels.56
Again, what McClintock claims for haiku is reminiscent of the Imagists. He is describing the same sort of transcendental experience as was Pound in his definition of the image: "It is the presentation of such an image which gives that sense of sudden liberation, that sense of freedom from time and space limits, that sense of sudden growth, which one experiences in the presence of the greatest works of art."57 McClintock's belief in the transcendental ability of haiku is an outgrowth of his entire mystical world-view, which sees reality as something that ultimately escapes the rational intellect and can be grasped only through a different sort of perception:
In haiku the objects around us, the familiar, are perceived as unfamiliar because through the senses, including the mind as a "sense", rather than by mental abstraction. And this perception through the senses works a release from conditioned response of the whole being, again, including the mind, but an area of the mind far different from its surface capacity for "reason," conceiving and abstracting. When conditioning, habit, and custom are dropped from our necessities, when we deny them, I think we have our truest vision of the world. Haiku is visionary poetry. In its simplicity and directness it expresses a higher wisdom than the conventions and artificialities of what we call reason provide us. And I suppose you could say haiku is mystical. I find it to be so. But it is not a mysticism of sense deprivation, which is the intellect sucking on itself alone in a starving room, but a mysticism grounded and rooted, actually, in the concrete, in the senses. In haiku I have found something that will not submit to be named. Haiku is simply the art of significant perception wherein the partaker confronts the meaning of things in themselves. Haiku are primitive, and for them we have no substitute in our literature.58
At this point one expects to hear the inevitable cry of, "Zen, aha!" But I think it is not so much the ideology of Zen as the ideology of haiku that is expressed here. And just as this ideology of haiku has certain elements in common with Zen (it is a-logical, simple, direct, mystical but grounded in
Concrete reality), it shares many of these elements with Western thought. For example, the philosophy of T. E. Hulme on which Imagist theory was founded, with its mistrust of intellect and language, its emphasis on the every-day, and the use of metaphor to express ideas, or William Carlos Williams' famous "No ideas but in things," or the Beats' aversion to all intellectualization in favor of spontaneity, directness, simplicity, and vision—these are all rooted in the belief that all thought, ideas, literature, and art must be grounded in the everyday and concrete things of this world. We may generalize and call it the attempt to transcend to the universal through concentration on the particular. There is a tendency to read Zen into everything having to do with haiku, just as R. H. Blythe had a tendency to read haiku into every piece of literature. The correspondences exist, no doubt, but it is a matter of emphasis. McClintock himself feels that the Zen element has been overemphasized and distorted, and refers to the mistaken assumptions about haiku "with which so many are taken up as they play the Zen-game, and possibly the Zen joke, on themselves."59
McClintock never states definitively what the proper subject matter for haiku is, yet he sometimes states what it is not, so that by process of elimination its proper realm is delineated. In one very interesting lengthy review McClintock discusses the haiku of Nicholas Virgilio, and re-classifies them as elegiac verse, finding this a more useful orientation to Virgilio's poems than considering them as haiku. His reasons are that Virgilio deals with elegiac themes: death, separation, tragic loss, love, decay, decadence and the afterlife. He asserts that to read Virgilio with Western elegists such as Thomas Gray, Philip Freneau, and Edward Young in mind is much more rewarding than with Basho, Buson, Issa, and Shiki. Virgilio has borrowed some techniques and formal elements from haiku, and McClintock explains that it is "in his exploitation and use of the powers of condensed language to express multiple and simultaneous levels of sense and meaning, that Virgilio's work finds kinship with contemporary English language haiku."60 The difference between haiku and Virgilio's short three-line elegies is his treatment of his subject matter: "Nature is never quite itself in Virgilio's poems, nor does nature seem to belong to him in any intimate, revealing connection, at least none that we can say is similar to that revealed in the haiku of the Japanese poets with whom he has been compared." Another difference is that "Virgilio's images are often stylized, or strike us so, due to his use of objects as symbolic counters."61 Rather than presenting an object in and of itself, his poems are frequently allegorical, depending on certain stock elegiac motifs such as ruins, tombs, graveyards, and moonlight.
Yet lest we think that McClintock means to define haiku as nature poetry, in another review, of Elizabeth Searle Lamb's haiku, he says, "For perhaps too long haiku has been discussed as a poetry of nature. It is that, of course, but as concept dependent on what we admit as 'nature'."62 And
here the complications begin. For Lamb writes haiku about everything, from Picasso's Bust of Sylvette to rain squalls on the Amazon. McClintock comments that
Perhaps this, essentially, has been Lamb's contribution to the haiku since her work first appeared in American Haiku in 1963—the use of the haiku as a uniquely adaptable medium for expression of things other than the quiet, meditative aspects of nature with which so many are taken up as they play the Zen-game, and possibly the Zen-joke, on themselves.63
We have seen that McClintock too writes haiku on a wide range of subjects, from Vietnam to life in Los Angeles. He continues to claim that "Taoism and Shinto—animistic Shinto—have as much to do with the spirit and essence of the haiku experience as does Zen. But we need not go quite so far afield, for ... the haiku poet's roots draw from both East and West ... " Lamb writes about a nature which includes man and man's work, therefore art: it is all in the way that one looks at the given subject. Lamb "suggests that the vehicle is art and the direct, non-conceptual experience of it," and McClintock suggests that "The problem is in words, but the answer is in perception.,"64 He seems to be arguing, in conjunction with his dismissal of Virgilio as a haiku poet, that it is not so much what the poet looks at, but how he sees it, that makes it haiku. A certain simplicity of perception that sees right to the meaning of things in themselves, akin to Basho's "inspiration," is the way of haiku.
McClintock believes that the haiku mode of expression may be separated from the haiku mode of perception. A poet may borrow certain techniques of haiku to express different sorts of perceptions, as Virgilio does. In a review of a book of poems by Janice Bostok, Walking into the Sun, McClintock says that "though the haiku aesthetic is never departed from as the basic control, an Expansion of its capacities to express through new combinations and structures is evident."65 This haiku aesthetic is most evident in Bostok's use of spare language, and silence:
She has developed a language and a tone which, with few words, is large and quiet—so large and so quiet it becomes invisible. It cannot be heard; it cannot, either, be explained. Bostok has managed to write a book of poetry wherein the language quietly erases itself ... The art of her poetry is not obvious—that is because it is art.66
The poems in her book are linked in such a way that they create one long piece, which is more properly called a lyric or an ode than a collection of
haiku. Yet she maintains the direct presentation of reality without words getting in the way that is found in haiku. So McClintock sees her poetry as an application of haiku principles to other forms, similar to his adaptation of haiku in his most recent book, Man With No Face.
In Man With No Face McClintock begins to move out of the realm of haiku proper, yet retains the "haiku aesthetic" as his control. This aesthetic consists of a certain way of using language to combine a literal and precise meaning with a transcendental and unlimited one, of precision and spareness in language, and of silence. It will be interesting to see whether or not McClintock continues to write haiku or haibun, or whether he will now move to adapting what he has learned from haiku to other kinds of poetry. I suspect a combination of the two, for as I have quoted him above, "haiku are primitive, and for them we have no substitute in our literature." At the same time he is curious and experimental, constantly seeking new possibilities in language. I think that through the sort of lucid explanation of the motivation and method of haiku that McClintock provides in his critical writing, the cause of haiku in English will be furthered whether or not he himself continues to write them. In his experiments with form and subject matter in his haiku he has opened up new areas of possibility to all would-be English language haiku poets. His haibun especially may encourage the growth of a new genre in English.
40. Van den Heuvel, The Haiku Anthology, p. 256.
41. Ibid., p. 270.
42. Ibid., p. 261.
43. Ibid., p. 63.
44. Virginia Brady Young, review of Light Run, Haiku Magazine, V: 2 (Summer, 1971), 37.
45. Yasuda, loc. cit.
46. Elizabeth Searle Lamb, review of Man With No race. Modern Haiku, 3 (1974),44.
47. Miner, Japanese Poetic Diaries, p. 19.
48. Michael McClintock, "The Tyranny of Form," Modern Haiku, II: 1 (Winter, 1970), 28.
51. Michael McClintock, Letter for The End of the Year Issue, Western Haiku, ed. Pat Nolan (1975).
52. Michael McClintock, Review of Itadakimasu, Modern Haiku, II: 4 (Autumn, 1971), p. 46.
53. "Statement and Suggestion in Haiku," Haiku West, VI: 1 (July, 1972), 10.
54. Amy Lowell, Tendencies in Modern American Poetry, p. 239.
55. "Statement and Suggestion in Haiku," p. 11.
56. Ibid., p. 13.
57. Quoted by Miner, "Pound, Haiku and the Image," p. 576.
58. The End of the Year Issue, Western Haiku, loc. cit.
59. "Beholding Lilies: A Comment on E. S. Lamb," Modern Haiku, VII: 3 (August, 1976), 7.
60. "The Camden Elegist," Modern Haiku, IV: 3 (1973), 11.
61. Ibid., p. 10.
62. "Beholding Lilies," p. 8.
63. Ibid., p. 7.
64. Loc. cit.
65. Review of Walking into the Sun, Modern Haiku, V: 3 (1974), 45.
66. Loc. cit.
67. Gary Brower, Haiku in Western Languages: An Annotated Bibliography (Metuchen, New Jersey: Scarecrow Press, 1972), p. 32.
Barbara Louise Ungar won the 2006 Gival Press Poetry Award for her collection entitled The Origin of the Milky Way, forthcoming in fall 2007. She is the author of Thrift (WordTech Editions, 2005), which was a finalist for the May Swenson Poetry Award and the Tupelo Prize, among many others, and a chapbook Sequel (Finishing Line Press, 2004), which won honorable mention in chapbook competitions at the Center for Book Arts, ByLine Press, and Finishing Line Press, which published it in 2004 as part of the New Women's Voices series. Her poems have appeared in Salmagundi, The Minnesota Review, The Cream City Review, The Literary Review, and many other publications. She is also the author of a chapbook, Neoclassical Barbra (Angel Fish Press, 1998) and Haiku In English (Stanford Humanities Honors Essay XXI).
Born in Worcester, Massachusetts and raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota, she has traveled around the world, and earned degrees from Stanford University, City College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. An associate professor of English at the College of Saint Rose in Albany, New York, she lives in Saratoga Springs with her young son Izaak.