Rain, tree, memory - the expansion of the haiku
A haiku is a glance frozen, a chance thought crystallized, a candid photograph of a woman looking at the man she loves and it is all their histories and futures, other lives and loves that mass about the buzzing point of this moment.
If this is a haiku, then a haiku expansion is an art film, a series of shots, the stepping stones through a Japanese garden. Just as the classic haiku suggests time in its seasonal observation, the haiku expansion suggests motion. It is arrested and inspectable evolution. It is a measure of the air that runs the length of your pace. You can walk through seasons just as you can walk through towns.
A haiku is never an isolated or a contained response. It is a set of specifics that conjures the untrammelled and the infinite. If a haiku is a drop of water in a lake, and its imaginative reverberations the rings that pulse from its impact, the haiku expansion is recent rain dropping from a leaf runnel, continuing the initial splash in various oscillations, the multiple rings travelling outwards, and, if the sun shines, you might see a prism.
We build up our lives in moments and our memories in image.
Why is the tree such a pervasive and important image in traditional Japanese haiku? Because of the connotations it allows of seasonal transformation and renewal, growth, nature and evolution. And aren’t the rings of a tree like the circles of interpretive imaginative history that emanate from the haiku, from the rain drop in the lake? The rings that describe the growth of the tree, its rootedness, its relationship to the space around it and to what that space teems with: weather, animals, minerals, man, its own static journey.
The Japanese wish tree is a bare tree that we reclothe, bringing Spring, with papers expressing hopes and desires. In this act of addition we are performing expansion. We bring to the bare tree our thoughts and loves, just as we bring to the spare directness of the haiku, our imaginative response predicated on and directed by our own experience, our own imagistic memory store.
And what about the feeling of dé jà vu? What is this but future memory, or the almost caught sense of reliving an experience we never consciously had. The gasp of familiarity and the dreamlike motion that sways from it is similar to the haiku and its expansion.
The unique attraction of the haiku is the space it allows the reader or hearer, without demand. It is a bare structure through which we can see the sky. To present a series of haiku, an expansion, is simply to architect a larger space, dotted with temporary image totems. To set things together, we must consider their relation to each other and to the space around them. Is the haiku a describer of space? Is its expansion merely a larger work of this sort?
And who writes their name at the bottom of a wish they tie to the tree? The haiku is a secret, transferred, and always altering. It is anonymous, personal and universal. I saw a wish on the tree and thought it was mine until I realised it wasn’t my handwriting.
‘I wasn’t going to write anything but this tree has moved me.’
The haiku is always there, we can return to it. We do not need to erect monuments to it. We cannot dissect it because it already shows us its skeleton.
The haiku is a moment’s meditation, its expansion practice on a theme. Like a novice monk we write haiku and expand them, stepping through our minds, our faiths. In its classically delicate expression, I think we can return to the haiku and see new things in it without misunderstanding it. We are allowed to experiment with the haiku because it is not fixed in an imperial sense. As a tree sways in wind and alters in weather and season, the haiku will be subtly different on each approach, and an expansion is a copse, maybe a wood that we can walk through, and the rain will fall and the trees will turn their leaves up to it.
Faith. The haiku stands at the join at the centre of a cross. The horizontal stretches in a known linear sense of time, time as the wall clock and the colours of the leaves and the levels of the ocean display it, the vertical trenches into the past of this precise moment and explores the alternative future of it. Pick up the cross and angle it because the haiku is physical and the light will slice off it.
We like the reflection of the haiku. We like the tree’s branches being its roots’ reflection and the whole being reflected back in the water of the lake. We like to tilt the haiku to catch the light. We know this has something to do with cameras and capturing image, and also something to do with alternative pasts and futures.
I love someone who lives upside down from me, who hangs off the globe. I like thinking we are joined in reflection, that we are within the border that might separate us and outside of the grasp of nominal notions of time and place. We are always moving after all. Our present is only a different future, another past.
When you reach out your hand, cupped, are you holding the sky?
It is the flexible playable space between haiku that we like about the expansion. They say as lovers we are trees that grow near but apart, that, like strings on an instrument, we do not touch, but vibrate with the same music. How could we have space and make music if we were touching always?
And can a haiku ever really stand alone? Is it not linked in expansion automatically to the act we perform directly after reading, to the conversation we had before we approach it? Is it not part of the imaginative fabrics, the springy ground and wide skies of living? Maybe all poetry is, but it is the haiku, in its elegant spareness, its direct uncombativeness, its jolt that reminds us of the beauty of reality and the truths that spin out from it, that most folds itself into our lives to open like fluttering origami or wings.
The haiku is small but it is not a fragment. It does not depend on expansion to become credible, nor does it warrant fetishising as broken crockery. It is the offer of a whole experience already. To thread haiku together into expansion is not then to pin them into an accepted Western narrative structure but to explore sense of space further, to feel the ground between trunks, to stand humming, inhabiting the vertical sky.
We have shed terrors, guilt, misunderstandings like leaves. We cannot stand alone. We crave structure and suck dark water from the earth. We inhabit space. The haiku is a demonstration of us.
Loveday Why’s poetry has been published in the UK (including in Other Poetry, Envoi, Acumen, Agenda, Fabric, Iota, Obssessed with Pipework), New Zealand (Psychic Meatloaf, Blackmail Press and JAAM) and online. A chapbook, Chillida and the Sound was published by the Gumtree Press this year.