Many of the haiku I most admire elude all my attempts at finding meaning; they simply are, and mirror the truth that I too simply am and don’t require the reinforcement of story, philosophy, memory or concept to exist. Nonetheless, I recognize in myself what I might call a narrative impulse, and I find that many haiku, some I like very much, appeal to this impulse. But those that feel most alive, most startling, most mind/heart opening, do something different. They approach the experience of consciousness itself, of the awareness of consciousness. Increasingly (at least as I experience them), each of the five poems I wish to honor (the last will be my choice for the Scorpion Prize), challenges the narrative impulse. They also challenge other notions of what a haiku may be.
back of the house your voice lights a candle
From Gregory Hopkin’s poem one could easily create a world. It powerfully and skillfully draws the reader in, invites the imagination, and tweaks it with a surprise, requiring our sense-making apparatus to pause for a moment. The narrative impulse is forced to give way, pleasurably, disjunctively, to a more lyrical impulse in which pure feeling resides and can rest.
While I believe that Hopkin’s poem could have been written as a two or three liner, I don’t think that’s the case with this one by Carolyn Hall:
white wind the eyes of the dead seal missing
The sound of it, the alternating long and short vowels, and the rhythm (propelled by two initial stressed syllables) are experienced in a rush, sweeping us up into feeling, into a place that does not find “white wind” puzzling, but absolutely right. The poem is grounded in the author’s experience (it may have been a dream) of finding a dead seal, an image the world has provided her. “White wind” is the response of her soul, whose imagination, like that of the world, is not arbitrary, and has nothing to do with fantasy.
birds wait on my thoughts to disappear into seeds
This poem by marlene mountain is, for me, more challenging. (I am not equating more challenging with better). What is it grounded in? I can make sense of it, I can imagine that the author is planning her garden, that thoughts are pre-cursors to buying seeds and planting them, and from there, with a child-like hop, I can imagine that birds are waiting for her to get on with it. That’s my story, and it’s fun, but I think it does some disservice to the poem, which seems to want to slip into another dimension. It moves closer to the enactment of consciousness itself.
green for a few words gray green
Yikes, John Stevenson, where are we? Readers, I think, are likely not used to this kind of writing from this author, and yet, I would characterize it as very much the same, in one way, as other things he has written: it’s appeal is to the mind as well as to the senses, and if one is looking for juxtaposition, that might be a place to start. I think, on the surface, the immediate appeal for me is in the sound: if you speak it in a low voice, which will emphasize the way it makes your mouth feel as well as the way your ears hear, it can be experienced as a kind of sonic arc, lifting, dipping and lifting again. It gives one the affect of a smile. I suppose one could say that the poem is “about” how subtle changes in feeling and perception can occur in the span of a few words, or a thought. It is a poem that seems to have been lifted from a steam of consciousness, a sleek fish raised, bending in the air, its colors revealed in sunlight. It is not a poem one could easily pin a story on.
The Scorpion Prize, which has passed through and been blessed by the hands of the above notables, finally comes to rest in Paul Pfleuger, Jr.’s possession.
A darkness so deep
I am surrounded
by gold beetles
We have experiences which in no way relate to the senses, which come, seemingly from nowhere: they are not memories, they are not projections. They are not even imagined, and yet how to convey them except by image, and therefore by approximation? Though some readers (and perhaps the author himself) will have other associations with “gold beetles”, in this poem I feel Paul Pfleuger has come pretty close to conveying the consciousness of ecstasy. I applaud him, Gregory Hopkins, Carolyn Hall, marlene mountain, and John Stevenson for challenging the often pinched notions of what haiku and poetry may be, and I applaud Roadrunner for promoting and encouraging the challenge.