SENSATION AND UNITY IN HOKKU

Here we are on Midsummer’s Day, the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year.

Photo: Anna Langova

Photo: Anna Langova

In the previous posting, I said that for a hokku to create a poetic-sensory experience in the mind, the writer has to create the right conditions.  When that is done, that experience will involuntarily arise in the reader’s mind.

Those right conditions are what make interesting hokku as opposed to boring hokku, meaning unsuccessful, failed hokku.

One does not need extraordinary subject matter for good hokku.  Most use very ordinary things.

As an example, here is a slight variation on a hokku by Genshi:

(Summer)

Looking to see
If the leaves are moving;
The heat!

That verse has great unity, meaning everything in it works together to create the experience in the mind.  We feel the intensity of the summer heat in the urge to find even the slightest breath of wind stirring the leaves on the trees.

Summer (like winter) is a season when contrasts become very important — heat and coolness.

Here is another slight variation, this time on a verse by Ganshitsu:

(Summer)

Evening heat;
Listening to the sound
Of distant thunder.

That too creates a sensation in the mind.  We feel the oppressive heat of the evening, and we hear it in the sound of the far-off thunder.

Remember two qualities that tend to make for good hokku:  strong sensation (meaning it creates a strong sensory experience in the reader) and seeing something from a different perspective.

Regarding the latter, we ordinarily think of leaves as green and cool and pleasant.  But in the following variation on a hokku by Kooku, we see them from a different perspective, meaning we see them presented in a way that gives US a different perspective:

All the leaves
Are covered in dust;
The heat!

It is a day so hot and windless that the dry dust that has settled on the leaves of the trees remains there, and we see the heat in it.

You can see heat in unmoving leaves and in dust; you can hear it in thunder.  That is a sign of a verse with good unity, and that unity helps to make good hokku.

As an example of a verse without unity, a verse that fails, look at this:

(Summer)

A robin
Walks across the lawn;
The hot day.

What is the relationship between the robin and the hot day?  None.  Two unrelated things, the day and the bird, have just been randomly put together.  There is nothing in it to make us feel a strong  poetic-sensory experience; there is nothing allowing us to see something from a different perspective; and there is nothing that unifies the robin and the day.  Keep those faults in mind, and it will help you to avoid writing bad hokku.

 

David

 

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