Tanya Bailey’s recently published collection of poetry, “Vividly Diverse Haikus,” contained some surprising lessons for me.
I think that most people connect with haiku through their own experiences of grade school English. Trying to make a poem that fit the 5-7-5 rhythm and still made sense could be challenging, although the restrictions seemed arbitrary and perhaps pointless. My personal reference point is a little different – I connect with haiku through the Buddhist tradition, where they are a highly esteemed art form that try to capture the essence of a moment in a way that enhances perception or gives sudden insight.
Tanya goes in a different direction with her own haiku, and she makes the form of poetry match the zeitgeist in a way that I wouldn’t have imagined. “Happening” poetry in 2017 is likely some form of spoken word – whether slamming, rapping or whatever else. This long form poetry works in a lot of ways, but reading a book of haiku also seems very “in the moment” to me. Not unlike reading twitter or some other social media feed, it is a series of tenuously connected sound bites that, when read together, give an overall feeling that none of the individual works achieve on their own. It seems perfectly suited to our shortening attention span and tendency to “skim the waves” of whatever we are reading.
She riffs on a series of themes – social justice, activism, racism, sexism, modern media, family and others – and ties them together into a stream of short clips that form a coherent whole. Admittedly, not every haiku worked as well as the others for me, but very quickly this ceases to matter as you consume them in a long stream of thoughts. Although these ones are out of sequence from how they are presented in the collection, you can see by this example how they work together.
Turn off the machine
The spectacles are now us
Freedom in shackles
A new year for change
As the smoke clears I see fear
Or are they chem trails
Toronto street echoes
This system is fucked
She is less constrained by the strict form of the haiku then she is by the idea of its short, clipped tones. This reminds me of the Beat Generation’s use of haiku as a novel form in the ‘50s and ‘60s – in some cases they invented new constraints to work with instead of 5-7-5, such as simply how many words fit on the page of a small notebook.
“Vividly Diverse Haikus” is worth checking out, and can be found for sale in Toronto at Sonic Boom and Story Bookshop, in Brampton at Knowledge Bookstore and online at www.ardith.ca. And while I’m looking forward to seeing more from Tanya, I also hope that she starts a small revolution in haiku writing that spreads and spreads.
Despite its ancient roots, I’m convinced that it is the form of poetry best suited to the early 21st century ear.