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Lacing Your Shoes: Haiku and the Everyday
Dec 2001, dgrayson
Watching a commercial for an upcoming TV movie on the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, I thought how it’s probably not difficult to make a passable film about the Holocaust. Because of the inherent nature of the subject, even a poorly written and directed film can affect viewers. In other words, the subject itself does a lot of the work for the filmmaker. It is more difficult to make a quality film about an everyday subject. You need well-developed characters, a strong story, and so forth.
The same principle applies to poetry. It is especially challenging to write poetry about everyday objects and events: a doorknob, a paper bag, a man waiting for the bus.
Most poets know haiku as the short, three-line Japanese form with a 5-7-5 syllable count and a Zen twist. But this is only a slice of what haiku is about. Close to the center of the haiku sensibility is the everyday world. In fact, using everyday subjects is one of the genre’s strengths.
Haiku appear plain in fact, a popular misconception is that they are "about nothing." Of course, this surface obliqueness is a conscious ploy on the part of haiku poets. Harold Henderson wrote that in haiku "the emotion is conveyed not by stating or describing it, but by describing or clearly suggesting the circumstances that aroused it." __1
Of course, many Western poets have also used this subtle, indirect style as Walt Whitman does in "A Farm Picture":
In the West, we call this experience an epiphany. The American Heritage dictionary defines an epiphany as "a sudden manifestation of the essence or meaning of something." There can be a religious component to this: an epiphany can be a revelatory manifestation of the divine. In either case, a worldly or spiritual truth is revealed behind a curtain of the everyday. Something vital is unveiled behind a gauze of ordinariness.
Martin Buber relates a quote from a Hasidic thinker Rabbi Leib that speaks to this point: "I did not go to the maggid [teacher] in order to hear Torah from him, but to see how he unlaces his felt shoes and laces them up again." __4 Rabbi Leib notes that it is not so difficult to experience the divine while engaged in the grand pursuits: ecstatic prayer, meditation, fasting, and so forth. The challenge is to experience God while lacing and unlacing your shoes.
David Grayson is an Oakland-based essayist and poet whose work has appeared in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Modern Haiku, Cortland Review, Caveat Lector, moocat.net and several other journals.Got feedback on this page? Share it with the moocat!
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