MODERN HAIKU — THE UNWEEDED GARDEN

When I began teaching hokku on the Internet many long years ago, at first I had crowds of people flocking into my classes.  They came largely from the modern haiku community.  Unfortunately, however, most of them really did not want to learn hokku.  Instead, they wanted to present a few of their verses and be told that what they were already writing was great.

It wasn’t great.  And it wasn’t hokku.  And when I told them that, they promptly lost interest and left, often with a few choice words about “tyranny” and how “You cannot tell ME how to write.”

Paradoxically, they were correct.  I could not tell them how to write, simply because they had not come to learn, and so would not listen.  Instead they wanted instant success and praise, and they did not want to have to spend time learning the principles and techniques and aesthetics of the hokku.   So they quickly went back to modern haiku, where those who know nothing whatsoever about writing hokku or even legitimate haiku will quickly find someone who will praise their awkward and mediocre verses.

The whole edifice of modern haiku is virtually based on this system of unlearned beginners who are too proud to learn how to write, and cannot bear being students rather than immediate “poets.”  And no matter how deplorable the verses written by such people, they will always find others who write equally deplorable verses and who will, with unfailing bad taste, be there to praise and encourage one on to further depths of mediocrity.  They have an unspoken agreement among them:  “I’ll say you are a poet if you’ll say I am.”

To speak of learning to write modern haiku is really an oxymoron.  Most people just pick up ideas here and there, from this book or that Internet site, and then go on to write as they please.  Really, what else can one do in a community where there is no common definition of what haiku is or how to write it?

What happens is that people end up writing little brief verses that have little or nothing to do with hokku, and also little or nothing to do with what Shiki originally intended haiku to be.

But the one saving grace in all this for such individuals is that the modern haiku community enables anyone, no matter how unskilled and unprepared, to write verses and have them immediately accepted by others in the community.  After all, if no one can say for certain what a haiku is or how to write it, that makes the individual the arbiter, so a haiku becomes whatever any given individual declares “haiku” to be.  That is how deplorably degenerate the modern haiku community on the Internet and in print has become.

When I talk plainly like this, those in modern haiku often think I somehow want to “convert” them to writing hokku.  Not at all.  I think people who are satisfied with modern haiku are very poor candidates for hokku, and I have found from my teaching that in fact that generally proves to be the case.  They are so full of their own notions, so full of the desire to be seen as “poets” by others, so irritated when their mediocre verses are subjected to legitimate scrutiny, that it would be impossible for them to really learn hokku until they change their attitude toward themselves and toward the world.

That is why I am not really interested in students from modern haiku.  I already know what they are like, and they do not make good students of hokku.  In spite of this, many of them regularly read this site for “tips’ to apply to their haiku, though I repeatedly caution against mixing the two forms of verse.  But they don’t listen.

That is their choice.  I have no interest in contributing to their confusion.  Instead, I prefer to teach those who really want to learn hokku, and though their numbers are fewer, I have always preferred quality to quantity.

As for modern haiku, it is even worse now than it was decades ago.  As Shakespeare wrote, “‘Tis an unweeded garden, that grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature possess it merely.”

David

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