December 26th, 2005

Egrets Reading

Minimalism: The Essence of Images

When I was younger, my poetry was excessively wordy. After five years of studying haiku, my longer poetry is leaner and meaner.

This IMO is a good thing.

I have my lapses, but most of any latent wordiness is removed by the editing process.

Consider my Midnight Mass haiku from yesterday.

I originally wrote:

Midnight Mass
the choir sings Handel
and fills up the church

After contemplating this for a while, I decided that it isn’t really necessary to say “the choir sings Handel”, so I changed this to “the chords of Handel”. However, it was the 3rd line that really bothered me, because “fills the church” is a much cleaner way of saying, “and fills up the church”.

This led to:

Midnight Mass
the chords of Handel
fill the church

The “chords of Handel” still bothered me, though.

After posting this version on the Simply Haiku e-mail list, JJ wrote me an e-mail suggesting that I drop “the chords of Handel” and simply write:

Midnight Mass
Handel fills
the church

This is a minimalist version of the same initial thought and image, but really expresses my feelings of attending the Mass at St Paul’s more accurately. St Paul’s ceiling is high and there’s a sense of being dwarfed in the pew by this vast interior space. Unlike my home parish, Holy Angels, there’s no carpeting inside the church, giving it a colder feeling at first. Acoustically, the music from the choir and organ seemed to make this vastness a lot smaller and warmed up the place for me. I became caught up in the music, part of a much larger entity, no longer so small and cold. The music connected me with the body of the Church, with God, other worshipers, my family members next to me, as well as bringing to life a long-dead composer’s musical vision.

There’s no need to mention the choir in the haiku, because I believe “Handel” and “Midnight Mass” implies a choir is singing. And, even if the reader only hears an organ when reading the poem, it doesn’t change the core meaning, its essence.

This is one of my goals when writing haiku – somehow conveying the meaning without extraneous details that truly don’t matter. The readers can fill in their own details and the haiku can become a unique experience for each person who reads it.

This is almost completely opposite from a normal poem where the poet needs to fill in details to bring the poem to life and convey a specific image to the reader. Yet, paradoxically the techniques used in haiku to fill up the space of what is NOT being said can be useful in longer poetry to strengthen the details that are included by the poet. Each word counts in poetry.

Speaking of the power of words, ultimately I added one more word to this seven word haiku which finalizes this one for me:

Midnight Mass
Handel's Messiah
fills the church