WHY HOKKU AVOIDS TECHNOLOGY

Hokku has deliberate limits on its subject matter, and one of those boundaries excludes what we loosely call “technology.”

As a result of the Industrial Revolution and the consequent great expansion in use of technology and consumption of fossil fuels, humans entered an Age of Illusion in which the misperception became common that Nature was little more than a vast repository of resources to be gathered and used however humans saw fit.  Humans saw themselves more and more as separate from — and in general superior to — Nature.

Hokku — and a life in keeping with hokku — reverses this trend.  One cannot write hokku without the realization that Nature gave birth to humans, and thus humans are a part of, not apart from, Nature.  That is the only realistic and healthy attitude.

It is also an antidote to the wrong thinking so prevalent in the world today — that the world was made for humans, that all of Nature “belongs” to humans to do with as they will.  And it is only by realizing how intimately connected with Nature we are that just possibly, humans might yet have a slim chance of averting a final environmental catastrophe brought on by decades of ignorance, arrogance, selfishness and greed.

So it is not simply a matter of aesthetics that hokku avoids technology and never abandons Nature and the place of humans as a part of Nature as its inherent subject matter.  It is also a tiny counterbalance to the immensity of wrong thinking and wrong action in the world today.  By avoiding putting “technology” in our verse, we have to pay greater attention to Nature and how we relate to it, and if anything might save humans from destroying themselves, it would be that realization of our inseparability from the same Nature that humans have so raped, battered and abused.  In harming Nature we harm ourselves.

It is worth mentioning that even Shiki, who ultimately caused much trouble by his somewhat short-sighted, revisionist creation of the new “haiku” as an offshoot of hokku near the end of the 19th century, did not go as far in abandoning Nature as many in the modern haiku community have done.

What we call “technology” in hokku, Shiki called “artifacts of civilization,” and he wrote that most of them are “unpoetic” and thus difficult to use in poetry.  He said that those who supposed that his admonition to “write about new things” meant to write verse on such things as “trains and railways” were mistaken, but that if one does write about them, “one has no choice but to mention something poetic as well.”  If a verse contains an element of technology, Shiki felt, one had to counterbalance it — “make it more attractive” as he put it, by including such other elements as violets blooming by the railroad tracks or poppies dropping their petals after a train had passed (see Dawn to the West, Donald Keene, 1984, pg. 51).

Shiki’s admonition, though it seems overtly based more on his ideas of what was “beautiful” in verse than on anything more profound, nonetheless resembles somewhat the principle in hokku that even though technology is generally avoided, if rarely some aspect of it not too inharmonious with hokku is included, the “technological” element should not predominate, but should always be secondary to Nature.

Hokku may be the ONLY verse form in existence today that strictly limits its subject matter to the intimate connecction between Nature and humans as a part of, not apart from, Nature.  For that alone it should be valued and protected, and it should never be diluted by confusion with or admixture into the chaos of modern haiku, which in its fragmentation and endless bickering reflects the confused and blunderingly rootless state of modern society in general.

David

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