THE EFFECT ON THE READER

In a previous posting, I mentioned a third category of hokku — one I do not teach or advocate because it takes us too far away from reality.  It consists of hokku with not just the bit of thinking we find in shinku — but rather with excessive thinking, imagination or fantasy.  We can call this category soku, from a reading of the character — meaning “think,” combined with ku, meaning “verse.”  In English usage we drop the double ō and just call it soku.

But what about verses written from the imagination that seem quite faithful to reality?  Well, those verses are somewhat like the old Chinese ink paintings that were done after one familiarized one’s self with the characteristics of natural landscapes to the extent that one could make a painting that seemed to express the essence of the natural world.  In short, though they are hokku written from the imagination, the practical effect is the same as if they were written from direct experience.  That is because the writer has absorbed memories from past experiences so well that a new verse created from combining elements of those memories has the effect of a verse written from reality.

Now obviously — if such a verse is suitably effective — the writer alone is likely to know if it was written from memories plus imagination, or if it was written from immediate direct experience.  The key here is that it must show no trace of artificiality or “phoniness.”

With many old Japanese hokku, we simply cannot tell if they were written from direct experience or from an accumulation of memories mixed with a bit of imagination.  A great many are the latter.  Nonetheless, if such a verse — whether old or new — reads and feels like reality in English, we treat it as a daoku — an objective hokku — because that is its effect on the reader.

Here is an example of such a verse:

(Summer)

Opening a window
In the stuffy attic;
The wind from the sea.

Now I have experienced stuffy attics and rooms, and the effect of opening a window; and I have experienced the wind from the sea.  But I do not recall ever experiencing them all together.  Nonetheless, because of my memories of each element, I can put them together and feel the oppressive summer heat in the attic and the sense the refreshing gust of coolness from the sea when the window is opened.

But, as I have said, I did not have the precise experience of the entire verse from direct experience.  And I can tell you exactly what gave rise to my writing it.  It was seeing a reproduction of Andrew Wyeth’s painting “Wind from the Sea”:

(National Gallery)

I do not advocate making a habit of writing in this manner, because I favor direct experience — but it does no harm if the urge strikes you now and then, and if the realism of the resulting verse is strong enough for it to be read and felt as a daoku (objective hokku).

 

David

 

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