Tell me we’re fucked without telling me we’re fucked

In American poetry as in our ordinary discourse, a kind of positivism reigns supreme, using language to expose, explore, and extract meaning. We bring this mentality to haiku in English and are thwarted, because in Japanese culture, language is considered to be such an inadequate vessel for conveying true thoughts/feelings that what isn’t said becomes at least as important as what is. (This is the point at which my own attempt to master Japanese faltered, as a young man in love with a certain style of discursive conversation. What’s the point of learning a language if you can never use it for robust arguments about ideas? I said to myself then.)

Haiku with its wealth of off-the-shelf natural imagery (kigo) represents an attempt to enlarge the overall cultural vocabulary for human feelings, which are considered much more recondite than most WYSIWYG Americans tend to admit. Suggestion and concision in haiku, tanka, etc., more than just arbitrary restrictions intended to spur inventiveness, represent openings for interpretive possibilities that require sensitivity and creativity to parse. So for American poets the challenge becomes “tell me X without telling me X”—a currently popular online meme formula. But rather than jokey photos, we work with two images or observations, a main one and a subsidiary one, joined by a semantic break in an almost kintsugi kind of way, mindful of the gap itself. According to the aesthetic values of Edo-period Japan, which still hold sway in traditional arts and crafts, in kintsugi “such ‘ugliness’ was considered inspirational and Zen-like, as it connoted beauty in broken things.” This wabi/sabi aesthetic finds parallels in a number of countercultural currents in the West, from Medieval monasticism and the whole Christian embrace of poverty and brokenness to the disruptive force of Eliot’s The Wasteland, and provides I believe the most reliable bridge between two otherwise quite different understandings of the limits and purpose of language..

There have been five upheavals over the past 450 million years when the environment on our planet has changed so dramatically that the majority of Earth’s plant and animal species became extinct. After each mass extinction, evolution has slowly filled in the gaps with new species.

The sixth mass extinction is happening now, but this time the extinctions are not being caused by natural disasters; they are the work of humans. A team of researchers from Aarhus University and the University of Gothenburg has calculated that the extinctions are moving too rapidly for evolution to keep up.

If mammals diversify at their normal rates, it will still take them 5-7 million years to restore biodiversity to its level before modern humans evolved, and 3-5 million years just to reach current biodiversity levels, according to the analysis, which was published recently in the prestigious scientific journal, PNAS.

Mammals cannot evolve fast enough to escape current extinction crisis

The brokenness of the world is far more urgent than it was in Basho’s day. If we don’t mind the gaps, they will soon swallow us and all our art and culture, because a world without beasts, a world where the immense creative power and resilience of nature are hidden for millions of years, is a world without poetry.

dancing flames—
a ruby-throated hummingbird
here and gone​

(via Woodrat Photohaiku)

There’s one wood thrush here with a markedly less pleasant song than the others. It’s sort of flat and minor key, and while still musically more interesting than most songbirds, simply does not meet the high standard set for wood thrushes. This thrush’s performances feel perfunctory, even dialed in. Two and a half stars.

I wonder whether I’d be more concerned about my legacy as a poet if I had planted fewer trees?

Bamboo: two poems by Hagiwara Sakutaro


A bamboo-hauling expedition with my friend L. on Saturday prompted me to dig up a couple of Japanese poems by Hagiwara Sakutarô that I translated 20 years ago when I was in college. I couldn’t find the translations I did back then, so I worked from my old notes in the margins of my copy of Tsuki ni hoeru, “Howling at the Moon” (1917), Hagiwara’s first and best-known collection of poems. He’s considered Japan’s first truly modern poet, in part because of the obsessive, neorotic tone on display here. These poems, both entitled “Take” (Bamboo), are the second and third poems in the collection and echo imagery also found in the lead poem, so they were presumably meant to showcase a brand new way of looking at a traditionally poetic thing. While modernism in the West had little over a century of Romantic traditions about nature to contend with, in Japanese poetry, an immense and intricate set of correspondences between natural phenomena and expected emotional reactions made innovation daunting, to say the least.


Bamboo (1)

Out of the ground a straight thing grows,
out of the ground a blue-green pointed thing grows,
piercing the frozen winter,
glimmering green in the morning’s empty road
bringing tears to the eyes,
tears falling even now
from above shoulders swollen with regret,
hazy, the bamboo roots spreading, spreading,
as out of the ground a blue-green blade comes up.


bamboo beetle


Bamboo (2)

In the shining earth the bamboo grows,
the blue-green bamboo grows,
underground the roots of bamboo grow,
roots that gradually taper off
with fine hairs sprouting from their tips,
hazy fine hairs faintly growing,
faintly trembling.

In the adversarial earth the bamboo grows,
aboveground the sharp bamboo grows,
perfectly straight bamboo grows,
with its rigid joints going rin, rin,
at the base of the blue sky bamboo grows,
bamboo, bamboo, bamboo grows.