Some Thoughts on Lakes & Now Wolves by Scott Metz (Modern Haiku Press, 2012)

I find this one to be a great book for artistic inspiration as well as a fascinating read. Metz can write wholly memorable haiku (hear them once and they’re with you forever) in the traditional sense.

among the waves
in the Sea of Japan
a woman’s perfume

or

New Year’s Day — 
the wreath has fallen
between the doors

But he’s also interested in exploring (and evolving) the other forms which micropoetry can manifest. So there are monoku and vertical poems playing with the infrastructure of syllabification, morphemes and phonemes. Philip Rowland’s useful introduction draws comparisons with language-poetry and poets like Robert Grenier. And then there are poems that sound like Dr. Williams as much as they might suggest Aram Saroyan at his best.

most of
what is
right

in

a wild
flower

patch.

That insistent meaning to be had in separation of particulars probably emerged in Williams more strongly than it did in any poet of early Modernism. It’s with us still, because it’s a useful aid in the practice of seeing, a phenomenological tool. Slow down the stream of language and the tendrils that form around words in the currents of thinking and speaking begin to show. I think in the poem above it all come down to the word “patch.” The patch of beauty. The patch applied as poultice to the mind. The patch a multiplicity. The patch between that is communication. How we patch into the world. We still don’t know what “most of what is right is” with any certainty. But it’s in that patch. All definitions are ultimately circular at some level. It’s the quantum uncertainty Williams fell naturally in sync with in poetry as it entered the world in science. I like the coolness of the poem, its shadowy mind. It makes a sacrament out of very little and I think the sacrament feels nice.

This is the sort of book I know I will reread many times. Because there is no obtrusiveness of form or ego or even voice. The sense of voice is pleasantly splintered. If Iceland spar could cause voices to go prismatic the way it does images, the voices might vary in the way the poems do in this collection.

without permission part of me begins to bloom

and

lakes 
& now wolves
entering Pegasus

and

the double 
image of

a
small
cocoon
held

@ gunpoint

This book wields an imaginative heft wildly out-of-proportion to the number of words that actually appear on its pages.

Modern Haiku Press showed eminent good sense in bringing this bellwether title out, since it’s a great example of what I want to call freeku (Metz often refers to his work as merely “ku.”). Nothing wrong with seeing the free and the freek both in that neologism.

Haiku in English is doing very well after roughly a century of adjustment and growing pains. Once it shook that 5–7–5 syllabification motif (which never worked in English; Japanese is so different) haiku was able to breathe again. The whalebone corset had been cast down. The condescending Orientalism of Lowell and company was jettisoned too. Kerouac’s wild-heeled dancing in the form helped quite a bit to loosen things up. Kerouac turned out to be a true adept at Americanizing the form. Other Beats showed proficiency as well, and the era of bad copies began to draw to a close.

What remains now is one of the most interesting and underrated literary forms in English. When I think of what great haiku accomplish in a few seconds, I think of the way we interact with a stranger we will only see once in our lifetime for a few seconds, how important it always ends up being. Though it is a stranger. Though very little will be said or exchanged in glances. Though it will be all construction in two minds that won’t really meet. And yet they will. And they do. In that quick string of moments. To make a successful haiku is to make a believable stranger. A stranger of the sort you might wonder about for the rest of your life. Although, if someone were to ask you about the chance meeting, you wouldn’t really be able to explain. You can’t explain the quantum side of things. And that’s the strange thing about haiku. If it’s good, it always pops up like a stranger, one who makes you realize this is always another lifetime all over again. Metz’s book is a gallery of such strangers, a whole Station of the Metro.

I think with time we will realize that well-written haiku will age better and translate better than many other literary forms which will become trapped in time, in dated literary mores. like ancient insects in amber. Haiku’s insistence on the concrete and the immediate is what gives it galvanic energy to move forward in time.

It’s 8:14 p.m. Do you know where your Basho is?

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