Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Article on R.K.Singh's Haiku Sequence

HAIKU SEQUENCE: ITS CONCEPT AND APPLICATION IN R.K.SINGH

Dr. Rajni Singh
Assistant Professor
Indian School of Mines University
Dhanbad-826004

Today Japanese poetry has transcended the barriers of regions and augmented as a vivid poetic form. It is being translated, imitated and even integrated into different cultures. Many poets writing regular poems at one time or another have experimented with haiku or haiku-related genres. Perhaps, it would not be wrong to say that the present time witnesses the flowering of English- language haiku worldwide with some Indian poets as active contributors, namely Mujib Yar Jung , Angelee Deodhar, K.Ramesh, Kala Ramesh, R.K.Singh, Mohd. Fakhruddin, D.H.Kabadi, I.H.Rizvi, Narayana Rao, Maria Netto, Urmila Kaul, Radhey Shyam, D.C. Chambial, Kanwar Dinesh Singh and others. One notices more and more poets have been exploring haiku and haiku related arts such as haibun and linked verse forms.
R.K.Singh began his poetic career with writing long poems followed by short verses-- haiku and tanka—and further went on to experiment with haiku and tanka sequences. Singh’s Every Stone Drop Pebble (jointly with Catherine Mair and Patricia Prime,1999) and Peddling Dreams (in English and Italian trilogy, Pacem in Terris,2003) and more recently The River Returns (2006) are the three volumes of haiku and tanka that confirm his dominating presence in English language haiku scene. Singh’s haiku and tanka have appeared in journals such as Lynx, Simply Haiku, Mainichi Daily News,Modern English Tanka, The Asahi Shimbun, Ko-, The Tanka Journal, Ginyu, Haiku Spirit, Presence, Winterspin, Mirror, At Last, Moonset, Frogpond, Tinywords etc. and his reputation as a haikuist continues to grow. Probably, the shift in poetic form, from long poems to haiku and tanka, must have happened to the poet naturally because even in his long poems the poet “articulates his feelings and thoughts in measured syllables, eschewing unnecessary flamboyance of language or flights of fancy.” It is this poetic talent which makes R.K.Singh a prolific writer of haiku and tanka. Singh’s recent dabbling at haiku sequences as published in Lynx (vol. XIX: 2, vol.XXII:1, vol.XX:3, Vol.XVIII:3, etc) is worth considering.
An analysis of R.K.Singh’s haiku sequences calls for a short survey of the Japanese linked verse. The practice of writing haiku/tanka sequences in Japanese poetry is not very old. However, renga is the oldest form of linked verse in Japanese poetry. It is a linked elegance, in which 3-line stanza of 5-7-5 on are linked to a two line 7-7 on, usually written by two or more persons. Another poetic form, tanka, too, has a similar stanza pattern but differs from renga as it does not involve poets linking verses with each other. Talking about the difficulties early Japanese poets had in writing long poems, due to the characteristics of the Japanese language, Donald Keene writes, “Japanese lacks stress accents and rhyming is too easy to keep the rhymes interesting in a long poem.” This could have been one of the reasons for confining even the long poems to short forms (tanka). Responding to the desire to say more than can be said in 17 or 31 syllables, the modern Japanese poets began writing sequences.
One can find varied ways of composing haiku and tanka sequences. The most popular or common way of sequencing is by compiling and rearranging the haiku and tanka pieces that revolve around a common subject. This style of sequencing may not involve poets linking verses with each other. On the other hand, the linking could be the work of two poets with each poet alternating the links or even with ten different poets to address more complex and narrative issues. Thus the sequence may either emphasize one theme or can have a more kaleidoscopic approach by shifting the focus.
Commenting on the style of sequencing tanka pieces , Werner Reichhold in his scholarly essay, “Some Developments in the House of Tanka”, remarks: “…after writing…many different tanka…,(the poet) can put(them) together, partly adapted, building a larger poem.”(Lynx vol.XIV: No.2)This is equally applicable to haiku. Sanford Goldstein’s valued criterion for sequence also is worth mentioning here. According to Goldstein the sequence must have a beginning, middle and end in order to bring about a new overall cohesion and attentiveness. Thus the discussions on what constitutes a haiku sequence, have actually paved a way for the practicing haikuists to venture into a newer realm of creativity.
Many of R.K.Singh’s regular poems contain the haiku or tanka structure in separate stanzas but linked to make a complete poem. Now he composes his ‘sequences’ by gathering and threading the haiku pieces thematically.
A haiku sequence for analysis is “At War…”:
Night bombing
leaves the garden
white as death

Vultures waiting
for the left overs
of the sacrifice

Whiteness of the moon
and rocks howl with the wind…
fear in the veins

In the ruins
searching her photo:
evening

Standing behind
the window bars observes
darkness in shapes

Awaits his son’s
phone call from the border:
dogs and cats wail

A dead voice
calling up at dawn:
drowsy eyes

Alone
on her bed rings
the cell phone

Unmoved by the wind
he sits on a rock wearing
peace of the lake

The three dots of the ellipsis in the title set the mood by stretching out the weird and pathetic war scene. We are allowed to imagine all the things we associate with war. The first haiku in the sequence-
Night bombing
leaves the garden
white as death

gives a harrowing picture of a nuclear war. The lines instantly bring before us a trail of the major wars that occurred during the first half of the 20th century, the attacks of September 11 and the subsequent “war on terror”, and /or bombing in Afghanistan, Palestine, Iraq, Sudan, Congo, Croatia, Bosnia, Jammu and Kashmir etc. but the omission of article, whether definite or indefinite dismisses all the possibilities of associating the haiku with any specific war. In an attempt to make it generic, the last two lines are made more explicit. The lines ‘leaves the garden/white as death’, with all immediacy escalate the horror of a war. The kigo ‘garden’ indicates late spring or early summer. The word ‘garden’ is a symbol of happiness. But the night bombing plays havoc on the garden by leaving it ‘white’. The change in colour from green to white indicates the change in state. The colour ‘white’ is suggestive of the intense ‘smoke’ which results from ‘bombing’.
Further, the line ‘Night bombing’ can be well equated with a “night mare”. For a survivor or a witness, the overnight transformation of ‘the garden’ into a crematorium ground is like living in a hell. To some, the site of the ruined cities and shattered homes may be a heart-rending site but some may even remain unaffected. Like in the next haiku the place becomes a banquet hall for the vultures to dine on the wounded and dismembered bodies. The poet conjures up an omen of war and death through ‘vultures’.
The third link of the sequence if read separately again is ominous in tone. The last line ‘fear in the veins’ is an open-ended line. It is left to the reader to link/ relate it with his own inhibitions. But when the same haiku is studied in relation with the previous one the ‘fear’ becomes well-defined. Here lies the strength of three- liners. Each three- liner appears as an inseparable part of the whole and yet a complete unit in it.
Another marked trait of Singh’s poetry is obscurity in simplicity. The following haiku are loaded with layers of meanings. One can go on peeling off the layers for the exact/ accurate meaning but may not come to a single complete meaning:
In the ruins
searching her photo:
evening

Standing behind
the window bars observes
darkness in shapes

Awaits his son’s
phone call from the border;
dogs and cats wail

A dead voice
calling up at dawn:
drowsy eyes

Alone
on her bed rings
the cell phone

All these verses contribute an eerily peaceful picture of after war. The image in the last line of each haiku is a morbid image. If associated with war, the above verses reflect tremendous upheaval- outer as well as inner, unrest, acute nervous fears followed by disillusionment, utter hopelessness and intense isolation. Thus the mood of melancholy that is achieved via solitude is powerfully visual in the last five haiku.
‘Winter’ is a loosely linked haiku sequence. But the verses have the sensory depth, often visual and auditory vividness of the genre:
Wintry winds
bangs the window tonight
my thoughts agitate

Midnight--
absent whispers
from her room

The sun shines
on the winter blooms:
our first rose

Morning sun
in the dewy lawn
blue roses

Meeting again
the fragrance of night queen
in our bedroom

Naphthalene smell
oozes from the sweater--
fourth December

Noisy parrots
returning to the tree:
sun set early

Each haiku of the sequence is terse, dynamic and complete poetry and focuses the momentness of a moment: “what is happening” at a particular moment with all its freshness and truth. For the poet Nature becomes a tool to probe into human nature. The depiction of the inner turmoil through the turbulent winds in the first haiku is remarkable.
Singh’s haiku is notable for rich and resilient images. The succinctness, objectiveness, concreteness, directness and simplicity of his short verses captivate the reader’s heart and mind. His haiku can be broadly divided into three categories- ‘Nature haiku’ (deeply rooted in Nature and has a kigo), ‘Human haiku’ (referring to some aspects of human nature physical or psychological, and thus have references to the natural world and no season words) and ‘human plus nature haiku’ or ‘hybrid haiku’ (contents of which are natural as well as human world and often includes kigo). The poet meticulously weaves the links of the sequences. In each sequence the pieces are hooked thematically or grouped together to the title or chosen subject. There is no or little chronological pattern or relatedness between the poems, yet, they easily go together in forming a pattern. As each haiku is complete in itself and stands on its own, the sequence has inherent flexibility structure. The absence of the period at the haiku is meant to leave the haiku open-ended for an echoing extension.
Writing poetry is not just the practice of a technique it is something more than that. In Cid Corman’s words, “it is life… and if one worked at one’s life, the poem would come of its own.” And in Basho’s words, “To make a poem about the pine, study the pine, Become the pine.” Singh’s poetry is never a churned out machine work, it emerges right from his soul. His haiku have the lucid gleam of the morning dew and liquid clearness of the limpid stream that runs glittering in open sunshine. His sequences are remarkable for their clarity, chiseled beauty and inevitable afflatus.


References:
1. Catherine Mair, Patricia Prime, R.K.Singh. Every Stone Drop Pebble , New Delhi: Bahri Publications, 1999.
2. Charles Trumbell, “The American Haiku Movement Part I: Haiku in English,” Modern Haiku Vol. 36.3 Autumn 2005.
3. I.K.Sharma, “Introduction” New Indian English Poetry: An Alternative Voice, Edited by I.K. Sharma, Jaipur: Book Enclave, 2004, p.11.
4. John Marton, “The Way of Poetry: Part I of II- for Jeremy Seligson” in Moonset, The Newspaper, vol3. Issue2. Autumn/ winter 2007 Oregon: New York USA, p.16
5. R.K.Singh. Book Review. Deuce: Haiku Poems (New Delhi: K.K. Publishers and Distributors, 2001) in Indian Book Chronicle, Vol.28, No.4 April 2003, p.5.
6. R.S.Tiwary “ “Secret of the First Menstrual Flow”:R.K.Singh’s Commitment to Fleshly Reality”’ New Indian English Poetry: An Alternative Voice, Edited by I.K. Sharma, Jaipur: Book Enclave, 2004, p.89.
7. Werner Reichhold, “Some Developments in the House of Tanka” in Lynx Vol.XIV: No.2
8. http:// www.haiku-hia.com
9. http:// www.tinywords.com
10. http://www.ahapoetry.com/ahalynx/
11. http://indiasaijikiworlkhaiku.blogspot.com/2006/07/r-k-singh.html

Published in Maulana Azad Journal of the English Language and Literature (MAJELL), Vol. 1, No.1 March, 2009, pp.80-88.

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