HAIKU SEQUENCE OF R.K.SINGH in moonset Literary Newspaper
by Rajni Singh, India
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, Radhey Shyam, R.K.Singh, Maria Netto, and others.
R.K. Singh’s Every Stone Drop Pebble (1999) Peddling Dreams (2003) and The River Returns (2006) are the three volumes of haiku and tanka that confirm his presence in English language haiku scene. His haiku have appeared in journals such as Lynx, Simply Haiku, Mainichi Daily News, The Asahi Shimbun, Ko-, Ginyu, Moonset, Frogpond, Tinywords etc. 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.
One can find varied ways of composing haiku and tanka sequences. The most popular 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 as in renga.
Singh composes ‘sequences’ by gathering and threading the haiku pieces thematically. His haiku sequence ‘Snakes’ is threaded with twelve haiku.
‘Snake’ commonly known as ‘habi’ in Japan is a kigo for summer. The first three, the fifth and the eleventh haiku in the sequence are rooted in Nature which is evident from the images employed. The variety of colours represented by adjectives and nouns, such as ‘silt’, ‘algae’, ‘mushroom’, ‘green’, and ‘thorn apples’ abound in earthy colours-- green, brown, brownish-black and black. In each of the first three haiku we see the full play of snakes amidst its natural surroundings. The fourth haiku is built up on a contrast between the rational and the real. The haiku appears simple and lucid but within it lays a whole gamut of meaning:
in the labyrinthine pattern:
snakes in courtyard
Here, one finds the action and image coinciding to form a meaning. The third line ‘snakes in courtyard’ heightens the intensity of thought-process. Moreover, a suitable Japanese expression for the meandering thoughts could be “Dakou” (i.e., to go like a snake) which is associated with the movement of snake. Thus, the kinesthetic image ‘labyrinthine pattern’ is akin to the movement of ‘snakes in courtyard’. However, it is through the ‘labyrinthine pattern’ that the reader imagines the entangled movement of snakes.
The act of mushroom gathering in haiku no.6 indicates autumn livelihood.
The seventh and the eighth haiku in the sequence are hued in Indian culture:
Searches thorn apples
to propitiate lingam:
snake in sanctum
A snake’s tail
coils round a sweet
in the box
Though the seasonal customs related to snakes in India and Japan are different, snakes are associated with certain religious beliefs, mythical tales, and folklores in both the cultures. The Japanese Aodaishoo (a common snake) is said to bring good luck to a home where it stays, while the Indian Cobra is considered as an ornament of Lord Shiva and is offered to Him during “Shravan”(July-August, months of Lord Shiva) or on “Nag Panchami”(Serpent Festival) on the fifth day of “Shravan”. Thus, the line ‘snake in sanctum’ in haiku no. 7 is purely religious in tone. “Lingam” is well contrasted with snake. It is a phallic image that stands for the divine power and creation. In both the haiku, snake is in coiled position which in Japanese is termed as “Toguro O maku”.
In the ninth and tenth haiku, the snake symbolizes phallus:
Smells a snake
in the wet grass
The haiku is sensuous in appeal as it includes not only visual sense but also tactile, thermal , olfactory and kinesthetic sensations of movement.
Thus, the ‘snake sequence’, which subtly combines both haiku and senryu, takes the reader from the outer to the inner state, from Nature to Man. Probably, it is this dramatic organization that adds to the pattern of sequence, i.e., what comes next to the first, in the sequence. However, another arresting feature of the sequence is the parallelism between motion and stillness, which provides the sequence a snake like mobility (zigzag movement). The first four haiku present snakes in locomotion whereas the next four show the snakes in static positions. And again, the next three haiku are kinesthetic while the last one wraps within it all the movements. The seasonal setting of the sequence is between late summer and early rainy season.
Each haiku of the sequence is terse, dynamic and complete poetry and focuses the momentness of a moment. Singh’s haiku can be broadly divided into three categories: ‘Nature haiku’ ( rooted in Nature with 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 ‘hybrid haiku’ (contents of which are from natural as well as human world and often include kigo). The poet weaves the links of the sequences by hooking the pieces thematically. There is no chronological pattern or relatedness, yet they easily go together in forming a pattern. The absence of the period at the haiku is meant to leave the haiku open-ended for an echoing extension.
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. John Marton, “The Way of Poetry: Part I of II- for Jeremy Seligson” in Moonset, The Newspaper, vol.3. Issue2. Autumn/ winter 2007 Oregon: New York USA, p.16
4. Werner Reichhold, “Some Developments in the House of Tanka” in Lynx Vol.XIV: No.2
5. http:// www.haiku-hia.com
6. http:// www.tinywords.com
Published in: moonset Literary Newspaper (Oregon, USA), Summer/Spring 2009, Edition 5, Number 1, p.11 and p. 48