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In any event, what I've just written is likely to be a common reaction from the haiku folks you meet at the HSA meeting, even if they might not voice this reaction.

Ginsberg is specifically saying that one should avoid the Japanese attitude. Note that I begin the quotation with "Ginsberg answered that he wished to "make a distinction" between his work and "imitation Japanese haiku. Kerouac's "American Haiku" becomes Ginsberg's "American Sentences"--the word haiku is avoided altogether--and the to me quite interesting insistence on making the poem into a sentence.

Ginsberg wrote something closer to "imitation Japanese haiku" in his collection Mostly Sitting Haiku.

Have you read anything more of the essay? Maybe we needn't get into this too deeply, but here's a quick response. I think it's fine for Ginsberg to have made a distinction between his work and imitation Japanese haiku. But what, then, is all the work in Cor van den Heuvel's anthology? The best haiku in the American haiku scene left behind the "imitation Japanese" problem decades ago. Newbies still imitate with some regularity, but that's something they need to work through.

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Mostly Sitting Haiku, in my opinion, contains mostly poor haiku attempts, whether imitation or not. Imitation is a problem, to be sure, but it seems he's rejected more than just imitation. Moreover, the basic two-part structure that one can put in a poem such as haiku is not a "Japanese attitude. It's a sort of compression that a good haiku achieves regularly. Painting, too, often juxtaposes elements to create tension and energy and meaning.

What's lacking in Ginsberg's statement is a clearer understanding of the necessary two-part structure of haiku in Japanese or English. I have no serious quarrel with what Ginsberg created.


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However, if he was saying that his "American sentences" were a replacement for haiku in English presuming that haiku using the two-part structure couldn't be done in English? If he's not saying that, then his statement may have value in how his "American sentences" are an outgrowth stepping in a new direction, becoming less related to haiku in English of Kerouac's statement. What Ginsberg was wise to know was that his "American sentences" definitely weren't haiku.

However, it also seems that he rejected haiku -- throwing the baby out with the bath water in the process of rejecting imitation rejecting it is a good thing while not embracing the many good things about haiku--things that are possible in English. Perhaps an arbiter on this matter is that the Haiku Society of America has existed since There's no "American Sentences Society. Cheers, Michael. Frankly, almost nothing.

As far as I can tell, your argument here is with Ginsberg--go to it. But it really has very little to do with my paper.

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Ginsberg does seem to be criticizing haiku written by Americans--not the Japanese versions. The Japanese don't write "-ing -ing -ing. As I suggest at the beginning of my paper, a similar argument to yours could be made about the sonnet as used by Ted Berrigan or Robert Duncan--both of whom wrote "free verse" sonnets. Do Berrigan and Duncan observe the two-part structure of the sonnet usually divided into 8 lines and then 6? What about rhyme--which they ignore for the most part.

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As far as I know, no one--not even the formalists--is making such an argument. I don't feel the need to do that. My paper is about the meaning of the form to the Beats--not about whether they were reproducing the form accurately. It does seem to me interesting that the kind of formalist concern you evidence vis-a-vis haiku isn't one that shows up in other poets very much vis-a-vis other forms. It is after all part of the legacy of Modernism that an insistence on exact form should be diminished, not increased.

Not abolished: diminished. Pound's "Villanelle: The Psychological Hour. You asked me about differences between haiku poets and poets in general. Possibly one of the differences is the need to make the kind of argument you're making. In saying this, I'm assuming that you're representative of haiku poets--an assumption which you seem to share. Ginsberg's passage will, at any rate, be read aloud when I present my paper. I'll let you know what reaction it gets--if any.

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If Ginsberg thinks that Americans included too many gerunds in their haiku, well, then he probably wasn't reading enough good haiku. Honestly, I think that's the problem. Why react to the failings of the less-than-competent? They include personal pronouns nothing wrong with that , but I understand that the "no -ing" idea isn't relevant to haiku in Japanese because there's no equivalent in Japanese.

A poor translator is just as likely to include too many "-ing" words in a poem as an American haiku poet might. Do you think Americans write too many "-ing" haiku? Sure, gerunds exist in some American haiku, but not all of them are bad. I don't think anyone is promoting as "good" haiku any poems that have two or more "-ing" words in them, and only rarely do they favor a poem that has one!


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  5. I honestly believe that Ginsberg was criticizing not the best of American haiku, nor even the standards for general goodness, but was criticizing the worst of American haiku, or at least work that fell below good standards. Anyway, yes, I'm criticizing Ginsberg, not your paper at all, which I like very much. Meanwhile, regarding the "similar argument" concerning the "free-verse" sonnet Berrigan, Duncan, and maybe you could include Cummings, too, with some of his variations , and relating that to haiku, I actually think there's a significant difference that makes that attempted parallel invalid.

    Traditional sonnets have a long history and set patterns -- in English. Though of course originally Italian, there is a long-established form in English. Haiku, though, is compounded by being formal in Japanese in traditional haiku only -- there are plenty of nonformal haiku in Japan! The language differences make the formal requirement of essentially irrelevant in English, despite it being taught that way by some people.

    This is old news, and something that even the Japanese have recognized in high-profile declarations regarding international haiku. They have emphasized the value of the two-part juxtapositional structure more than anything else -- more, even, than season words. I guess the question is, do we consider Berrigan and Duncan sonnets to be sonnets or not? They're certainly in the context of sonnets. And the poem itself always matters more than whatever form it might or might not use which is why I can value Ginsberg's poems that he calls "American sentences," without regard to whether they're haiku or not.

    But in contrast, free-form or organic haiku are not merely "in the context of haiku. Getting back to Ginsberg for a moment. In The Source, which I think we've talked about, he is shown near the end of the film walking about 42nd Street, taking photos of haiku up on the old theater marquees. The haiku were by many prominent haiku poets who were members of the Haiku Society of America. But he admired that work, I'm fairly certain. I would wonder why he was taking those photos, if not! I maintain, though, that there's a disconnect in what he criticized about haiku in English and what the best haiku in English routinely accomplish without being imitative of Japanese and without over-"-ing"-ing.

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    There's the camp that teaches that haiku's a form in English, something long-ago debunked and dismissed by numerous poets and scholars and critics though the public and most teachers typically seem blissfully unaware of this. Then there's the camp of serious people like Ginsberg or Kerouac -- serious writers.

    Kerouac had it right in his understanding, though in practice his freewheeling unedited style led to many weak poems -- short poems that perhaps accomplished something regardless of whether they were haiku or not. He also was open to playing with things -- creating "pops" and other variations, probably knowing full well how they departed from haiku. But it seems that Kerouac did know how to get haiku right when he wanted to, and he did so with some frequency as did Richard Wright, though his work has its own problems. Ginsberg nearly never got haiku right.

    He too played with poems, creating "American sentences" and other variations, but I would say that where Kerouac played, he did it in the context of knowing "real" haiku better, but that Ginsberg didn't. It is extremely easy to dismiss as haiku nearly everything Ginsburg wrote that could be thought of as being in that ballpark. There are clear haiku strategies that Ginsberg over and over exhibits either an ignorance of or a deliberate dismissal of.

    In either case, his lack of understanding or lack of sufficient mastery of these strategies makes his comments on haiku suspect. Will be interested to hear what reaction there is to your reading of the Ginsberg quotation, if any. Hopefully, people will be more focused on the rest of the essay, and quite likely most of the people there haven't studied Ginsberg's haiku and comments about haiku that much.