Thursday, January 3, 2008


Book of Haikus

The haiku is a Japanese poetic form that consists of 17 syllables arranged in a pattern of 5-7-5. Kerouac’s haikus don’t necessarily follow this pattern.

I should make clear that I don’t read, speak, or even understand Japanese, and that I’m totally unqualified to express myself on Japanese metrics and prosody, so I’ll stick to making some general comments about Kerouac’s poems.

One of the dangers of writing haikus is that they can sound prosaic. Williams little piece about the red wheel-barrow is in this category.

so much depends upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens.

This is a piece of pseudo-profundity that impresses academics, but leaves normal people cold. Some of Kerouac’s fall here.

The tree
looks like a dog,
Barking at heaven.

The little sparrow
on my eave drainpipe
Is looking around.

Others encapsulate a moment of insight.

Trying to study sutras,
the kitten on my page
Demanding affection.

In this one we have Kerouac studying the Buddhist scriptures, and the real animal, the kitten demanding attention and affection. This encapsulates Kerouac’s relationship with the cat, and with his studies in a way that is difficult to forget. Another way of looking at it is that reality, represented by the kitten, keeps intruding on the attempt to live a spiritual level.

The best of Kerouac’s haikus are of this sort.

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