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    古池や

    Work, busy, wontons, Chiang Kai-shek, blah-blah-blah. Will have more to report soon. Two quick notes on the latest (though now several days old) Camille column at Salon.

    First, Jeff of Beautiful Atrocities got a letter published and answered. At least, you don’t think there could be another Jeff Percifield who would begin with “Longtime fan here. As a Reaganite homo, couldn’t disagree with you more on politics, but who cares?” and then go on to write about a Ukrainian drag queen, right? Me, neither.

    Then there’s this beyond-satire letter about the Iraq occupation:

    Thank you for giving us a voice of reason before and during the Iraq war. At a time when many people resorted to clichés or did not speak out openly against the war, you made a strong case for peace. I also commend you for continuing to speak out against this pointless war.

    My thoughts about our world, expressed in Haiku form:

    War afflicts our world
    Random murder and bloodshed
    The scourge of our time

    No armies in ranks
    Just sporadic explosions
    Maiming and killing

    Serving no purpose
    Ending lives before their time.
    When will peace arrive?

    Again, thank you on behalf of the Peace Party.

    I’m not Japanese, so maybe it’s not my place to say this, but on behalf of grown-ups everywhere…please don’t say things in haiku that are better said in normal prose. Please. If you’ve had some kind of epiphanic experience in nature and feel stirred to write a haiku, fine. That’s right in line with the tradition. In fact, that is the tradition.

    We use haiku in elementary school to teach second-graders about poetry because…well, it helps reinforce the concept of the syllable, it’s a less confusing way to teach discipline and rules in composition than the sonnet, it introduces the idea that non-Western countries have very different poetic traditions, and most kids can find something about nature that they think it would be fun to write about.

    However, it is a mistake to believe in something one might call the Haiku Effect, that (it is assumed) simply expressing something in seventeen syllables on three lines somehow imbues it with major big-time profundity. Pointless line breaks actually come off kind of kitschy, which presumably was not the intention here.

    4 Responses to “古池や”

    1. Zak says:

      ESPECIALLY because Japanese is a much more compact language than English is, so you can squeeze a lot more meaning into 17 syllables. If you are going to copy what is almost always a trite form to begin with (sorry Sean!), you should at least double the amount of syllables in English to give it the latitude you have in Japanese.

    2. Sean Kinsell says:

      I’m not entirely sure about that first part. Modern Japanese prose is a lot more compact, but classical Japanese had quite a few long-ass inflections and affixes. It seems to me to even out reasonably well in terms of ideas per syllable. And yeah, the haiku’s gotten trite…but you see hackneyed paintings, novels, and plays, too. I think the problem with the haiku is that people learn to think of it as both (1) like, super-deep, man and (2) quick and easy. The temptation to try for both goods at once is just too strong.

    3. Marzo says:

      >and then go on to write about a Ukrainian drag queen

      And a P.S. about Alaska &Fangoria, too! I must read Beatiful Atrocities more. (Well, I must read Beatiful Atrocities, period).

    4. Sean Kinsell says:

      Yeah, I don’t think Jeff’s going to be back to posting all that frequently, but he’s hilarious. Probably NSFW if you’re office is big on preserving leftist pieties, though. : )

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