Guest Editorial: Jerome Berglund

Jerome Berglund

Masters of Form: Concrete and Vispo Expressions of Haikai

Setu Bilingual Journal’s Masters Series Part III

guest edited by Jerome Berglund

Hostile Architecture


Whether we like it or not, there is a concrete element, a #vispo component to every short form poem we compose, design and exhibit. In the most familiar tercet arrangement emulating sacrosanct short-long-short traditions at the art’s foundations, depending on our choice of verbiage and how rigorously we adhere to expectations for line breaks or cutting mechanism after the fifth and twelfth onji (third and eighth by more concise model), the overall structure will be symmetric or lopsided, elegant or disfigured. Similarly, the more verbose our language and excessive entailed ji-amari allowances are the broader and more expansive, rotund and corpulent that figure taking shape becomes. Likewise, whether presentation is left/right aligned, centered, perhaps indented on the shorter segments or at the center as Kerouac did to distinguish senryu, as many opt to identify embedded portions of split sequences and the verse insertions in a haibun or denote co-authors of a collaborative poem, these aspects inflect and inform a reader’s experience, telegraph creators’ intentions in communicative ways.

Variations on the prototypical tri-tiered model introduce additional prospects for thrilling variation, proffer powerful opportunities to articulate meanings and support storytelling in captivating capacities. The monoku through rushing delivery apparatus has proven itself a potent mechanism for conveying concise and thrilling poetry; its half century of scrupulous English practice by innovators including Marlene Mountain, Cor van den Heuvel, Jim Kacian, Nick Virgilio has demonstrated the style to be one of the most effective and promising modes, with an added bonus of approximating original Japanese presentations, if from left to right rather than top to bottom. And just so do our anglicized letters themselves, too, preserve elements of the pictographic, when deftly applied evoke the same potential connotations, tangible material facets or ideogram elements as those elegant characters of logographic Eastern scripts which draw their roots from literal depictions of various objects and concepts. Nor was that capability lost on those trailblazing haijin of yore as many thoughtful translators’ footnotes will often remind us. More experimental modernistic and postku practitioners push these elements further to their extremes in intriguing fashions.

Among our day’s most famous, oft discussed English haiku, the one word ‘tundra’ excels inimitably not so much through language itself exclusively, but instead by ingenious mise-en-scène, situating the text alone within a vast canvas of empty space. The great Scott Metz, by displaying analogous subversive flair, has become one of the most recognizable contemporary talents at invoking fragmentation and entropy, elevating underpinning senses of wabi-sabi through his unique and distinctive arrangements in pieces such as the works one can review with great wonder in 2022 collection ea’s e from Red Moon Press. Avant-garde haiga has also become a sensational means of augmenting writing and introducing additional elements of complexity and juxtaposition, as many of this showcase’s phenomenal participants have distinguished themselves at countless times in the past. Marvelous journals, contests, dedicated editors and talents have also commendably devoted themselves to these fruitful pursuits, and you may admire terrific examples of such approaches in places like Sonic Boom (who oversee a renowned, beloved annual contest showcasing exemplary applications of these techniques), Five Fleas, Bones, Whiptail, dadakuku, and also discover occasional thrilling examples mingling comfortably amongst more conventional looking micropoems in venues like Frogpond and Modern Haiku. The renga from whence hokku originated, and its renku descendants, are concentrated upon ideas of ‘pattern’ and ‘ground’ stanzas alternating, maintaining an appropriate balance, and in the chain poems our era’s columns or issues implicitly entail, assembled works together comprise, indeed these varietals make for quite bold and eye catching designs exemplifying the former fraction. Like accents on an outfit or in a color scheme, using moderately and responsibly is advisable, but where suitable and proper such inventive verses can be absolutely pivotal, affecting and unforgettable for readers. We can’t encourage you enough to get to know these fine poets, follow what magnificent things they are doing, ask yourself how you might incorporate such freedom and agency into your own work. Take a lesson in disruption and audacity from them and embolden yourselves, the world can’t wait to see what future wordsmithing your imaginations have in store!!
February 5, 2024

Jerome Berglund has published book reviews and essays on poetry and poetics in Fireflies’ Light, Frogpond, Haiku Canada, Hooghly Review, the Mamba, North of Oxford, Setu, Valley Voices, also frequently exhibits poetry, short stories, plays, and fine art photography in print magazines, online journals, and anthologies.

Masters Series Part III: Concrete and Politiku

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