Saturday, April 4, 2009

Haiku


Haiku, simply put is a short poem of 17 syllables, split into 3 lines, with the metric phrase of 5, 7, 5.  I remember trying to try haikus in elementary school, and thinking of them as a childish activities for years after.  Then I read Jack Kerouac's novel "Dharma Bums" and starting viewing the haiku form in a different light.  The novel shows some of Kerouac's adventures as a ruck sack mystic, a zen lunatic, hiking great mountains with his friend "Japhy Ryder" or in real life the poet/activist Gary Snyder. In the book, Gary's character is translating haikus from the original japanese to english, as part of his work through his university teaching job, and describes the beauty of the simple form, through the haiku poet Basho.  There will be a later post on Basho, Issa, and Buson, so we will get to that eventually, today's focuses on Kerouac's haikus.

So the Haiku is a very traditional unbreakable aesthetic, but Kerouac decided to alter the haiku form to fit his more spontaneous writing style, and labeled it in his words as "American Pops."  He tries to keep the idea of the Haiku intact, but does away with the strict 5, 7, 5 form, sometimes writing only 2 lines, sometimes more.  So these ideas of the haiku Kerouac kept for the most part, was that the haiku had to be simple, have a seasonal reference, and give you a descriptive image of what was going on, with not so many words.  You could say this is early minimalism at its best, simple ideas, but chocked full of meaning.  So after reading "The Dharma Bums" I went along and picked up "Book of Haikus" a collection of just Jack Kerouac's haikus.  There is even an audio clip of Kerouac reciting these poems, with the response of west coast legend saxophonist Zoot Sims, which can be heard here.

I bring all this up for my own reference, as I am looking through the book of haikus, trying to find haikus that will work for my summer project of setting poetry to music.  I like the aesthetic of the single soulful saxophone responding to Kerouac's haikus, and would like to include multiple haikus of his into one piece...but I almost feel like free improvisation in a paired down ensemble would be better.  Three voices for three line haikus, two voices for two line haikus...keep the saxophone, add double bass, and maybe vibraphone, to give it a mellow beat lush approach.  Off hand the only parameter I can think of, to borrow from Morton Feldman, is long durations of tones, at a quiet dynamic, unless the specific haiku calls for more power than that, like a thunder storm, or some wild nature scene.  So on to some haikus...

Dusk - the blizzard 
hides everything,
Even the night

Perfect circle round
the moon
In the center of the sky

The mist in front
of the morning mountains
- late Autumn

Morning sun -
The purple petals,
Four have fallen

In the late afternoon
peaks, I see
The hope

How that butterfly'll wake up
When someone
Bongs that bell!

Late autumn nite 
the last faint cricket

The night
is red
with stars

-Jack Kerouac

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