October 24th, 2006

Egrets Reading

The Long Lost Frogpond and the MHLA Award

For at least a week, haiku poets on my e-mail lists have been debating the selection of Eve Luckring’s one-liner haiku as the “Museum of Haiku Literature Award” from the previous issue of Frogpond. This is a $100 award given to one haiku first published in the previous issue of Frogpond as determined by a vote of the Haiku Society of America executive committee.

Many people are writing on the haiku lists that Luckring’s poem shouldn’t be classified as a haiku at all, let alone be singled out for the MHLA award. It isn’t so much the fact that Luckring’s poem is a one-liner that torched off this heated discussion. Marlene Mountain, the late Francine Porad, and Jim Kacian, to name a few, have written complex one-liner haiku over the years which no one questions and which have engaged me into serious reflection of their poems.

The problem with Luckring’s poem is that it seems incomplete, half of a haiku that isn’t finished yet. I wish that it was possible for me to post it here, so those who don’t read Frogpond can see what I mean.

Pamela Miller Ness, the President of the HSA writes in Frogpond, "Reminiscent of some of the best short poems of William Carlos Williams, Luckring’s juxtaposition of two ordinary objects is filled with narrative content that invites the reader in to complete the story."

The problem is that the scene Luckring sets in her brief poem shows two objects which are not necessarily unrelated, there’s a pair of open scissors which she sets next to a vase filled with water, a scene which doesn’t really engage me. I just assume there’s a bouquet of flowers around there too and move on without contemplating this further.

An equivalent poetic model would be a one-liner fragment such as:

empty peanut butter jar beside jelly

which I wouldn’t personally classify as a haiku. It doesn’t engage me and doesn’t really say anything. Most people would assume these objects were together because someone just made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and used up all the peanut butter. So, the simple juxtaposition of these objects doesn’t really create much of anything in my mind other than the fact there's no peanut butter to make more sandwiches.

I believe this could be improved by juxtaposing something else on the empty peanut butter jar and the jelly:

empty peanut butter jar beside jelly first day of school

My preference would be to rearrange it a bit and write it in three lines, ditching the jelly as unnecessary (if you are implying a peanut butter sandwich with the juxtaposition of peanut butter with school, there’s an assumption of jelly):

an empty jar
of peanut butter
first day of school

Is this a better poem than Luckring’s prize winning one-liner? I’m not in a position to say. But, it’s a lot closer to my mental definition of what a haiku should be. In this case, I see a mother frantically rushing to get the kids ready for the first day of school and when the sandwiches are made, she realizes that there almost wasn’t enough, or wasn’t enough, peanut butter. She’s in a rush because she didn’t take time to throw the empty jar away. To me, this adds the extra dimension of frustration, yet there’s excitement because it’s the first day of school, not just an ordinary school day.

For me personally, there’s a lot of emotion and memories wrapped up in the phrase “first day of school,” which leads me to believe that the one thing truly missing from Luckring’s haiku is a kigo element. It doesn’t matter that my kids are grown now, “first day of school” is a personal kigo for me that will always take me back to another time and place filled to the brim with memories and emotions. This adds the dimension I think is missing from Luckring’s poem.

If she had added, “Valentine’s Day,” for example, the fact the vase is empty makes the reader wonder if she has the scissors and vase set out in anticipation or whether they were left there in disappointment when that Valentine’s Day bouquet didn’t come. A kigo of “Mother’s Day” may have brought to mind a mother who may feel neglected by her children. There are many kigo which would bring an additional dimension to the Luckring poem which would satisfy me far more completely than the poem as published.

To repeat that great quote by Kuroda Momoko from Abigail Friedman’s book The Haiku Apprentice:

Think of kigo as the power-packed, subatomic particles hidden in your haiku. Kigo give extra thrust to your poem because they both represent an object or event and evoke an entire seasonal setting.

- Kuroda Momoko, The Haiku Apprentice by Abigail Friedman