Mark Gilbert (Masters of Wabi)

Masters of Wabi

empty basketball court fading light

Mark Gilbert


muscle memory
desiccated dormouse
in the act of prayer

Mark Gilbert

Mark Gilbert writes short poetry and prose. His work has recently appeared in the journals haikuNetra, Five Fleas, Folk ku and Under the Basho.




In his groundbreaking Essential Haiku, Robert Hass describes the Katsushika school of which Kobayashi Issa was a member and the work in the Chikua group he donated, which habitually often concentrated on animals and exploited “vernacular language…as well as local slang”. The titan categorized their unique fashion as “countrified haikai”, and over the course of his celebrated lifetime would continue to stipulate especial interest in empathizing with plights of the disadvantaged, both in the hoi polloi everyperson and their nature equivalents, directly and as delineative proxies. Contrariwise, Issa’s unparalleled cognizance and scathing critiques were reserved and frequently marshalled to chastise his era’s power structures and their literary status quo, such as the coercive impact capital had on material’s construction and ratification—including famously lampooning the compromise of generating apolitical verses about generic, precious nature content (e.g. specifically ‘new snow’) as contest entries for the pleasure of affluent patrons, something Cup of Tea proclaimed should not be mistaken for high Art—when talents and platforms could be better engaged toward informing of social and economic needs or deficiencies, promoting compassion and fraternity, endorsing peace and mutual aid. These ethical intentions and prerogatives are conceivably most powerfully couched in the language and pictorial shorthand of wabi, and Mark Gilbert in his pieces above supports similar objects with that efficacious methodology. Where short for poetry confronts our planet’s ills on scales small and large, through platforms like Suspect Device Zine and Failed Haiku, this poet has proven himself to be one of the most incisive English voices in analysis and appraisal regarding the foibles of humanity. Most familiarly associated with senryu, these vivid haiku corroborate their equal capability, vindicate that vibrant, strictly concrete and nature-centric subject matter may likewise transmit implications of significant consequence, even do so more effectively by not interjecting value judgments and allowing the recipient to form their own suppositions. A picture has been priced at corresponding to a thousand words of influence, and the wabi in Gilbert’s deserted arena and forsaken earthly vessel, the sabi of flesh decomposing and light draining, speak weighty volumes in terms both existential and tangible. The obligation of competition (and alternative collective teamwork), birth lotteries and the lifespan’s vain aerobic exercises, Sisyphean racing back and forth over narrowly confined spaces—as Noam Chomsky notoriously pronounced, “strictly limit[ing] the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow[ing] very lively debate within that spectrum— Sammy Glick lacing up his running shoes… And that deceased rodent, whether in the sticks or a great metropolis a hunted, scavenging, endangered creature, who yet through faith or routine hopes for the best—opportunity, perhaps that rags to riches upward mobility and bootstraps climbing the West deceitfully promises—entreats higher powers out of habit or lack of expedient options, whose demise is unspecified, could as likely have starved or been surprised by a trap… There is so much of interest to be garnered from these pieces when translated via an accommodating cryptograph. Mark truly presents a micro case study and master class here on how wabi can represent a decisive utensil in the activist poet’s arsenal!

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