Wednesday, December 14, 2011

On Haiku, and Haiku on The Half Dipper, and on Appreciating Art

This post is about a tea blog called The Half-Dipper. If you do not know of this blog, I would recommend checking it out. It is a great blog to read for tea lovers, especially die-hard sheng Pu-erh enthusiasts, but in this post I want to highlight another aspect of this blog, its haiku. As of writing this post, Hobbes, the author of this blog, has shared well over a hundred haiku.

On haiku:

Most people are familiar with haiku, a Japanese form of poetry. You can read a bit about this form on Wikipedia's page on Haiku. Haiku, like most poetry in languages other than English, is a form that cannot be easily translated or truly appreciated in English in the same way. Rather than arguing about authenticity of haiku in different languages, I just want to remark that the form and structure of the poetry becomes different in a different language. It becomes a different art form, a new form which, in my opinion, is valid in and of itself.

When English speakers learn about haiku, they often learn about the syllabic structure, traditionally, 17 syllables divided into lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables. However, there is a lot more to haiku than this structure alone (and some modern haiku deviates from this structure). Haiku historically focused on nature as a subject (or a whole paradigm) for poetry, and this aspect can be just as important as the syllables. Even modern haiku that features urban or more modern subjects often reflects this sort of natural approach, with the poem saying something about the natural or organic nature of life, or drawing contrast by emphasizing something unnatural. Another aspect of haiku which is extremely difficult to translate or even approximate in English is the Kireji, a cutting word, which is used to divide two thoughts or ideas, the comparison or juxtaposition of which is central to the poem. Some of my favorite Japanese haiku (alas the author's name eludes me now) uses this juxtaposition to engage in a sort of self-deprecating humor related to Buddhism, the relationship of humans to nature, and the limitations of being human.

What I like about Hobbes' approach to haiku:

Hobbes typically includes a photograph with each haiku, which I often find enhances my ability to experience or appreciate the poem. I also find that many of the poems have a clearly evident juxtaposition of two contrasting ideas, in the spirit of the Japanese form, like I discussed above.

But what I like most about Hobbes' approach to haiku is that he often explains the meaning of the poem in a comment. If you visit his blog and read a haiku, I recommend always clicking to expand / read the comments, because he often posts his own comment after each poem, giving his interpretation or further explanation of what his intentions were with the poem.

I absolutely love this, I love when any artists or writers do this. I think there's something really wonderful and beautiful about explaining why one created a work of art or poem, what it means, and what its intention is. I also like the way in which this commentary is presented, nestled away in a hidden comment. This allows readers to read and experience the poem free of preconceptions, coming to their own interpretations, and then read the author's interpretation or ideas after the fact. I think this is just a wonderful paradigm in which to experience and appreciate art, one that is flexible and free, but also helps people to become more connected to the artist and aware of the artist's original intentions.

Read some:

If you want to check out some of these poems, travel over to the Haiku section of the Half-Dipper. And next time you create a work of art, whether it be a poem or anything, try this approach of attaching a little brief commentary or explanation of your intentions after the fact, hidden away somewhere that allows people to experience the art first, and then read your interpretation later. You may find that you really like the results this approach produces.

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