Artisan of the Imagination: An Interview with Peter Yovu
by Jack Galmitz
JG: Hello, Peter. Welcome to A Hundred Gourds.
PY: Hello, Jack. Thanks for inviting me here.
JG: First, I'd like to congratulate you on your most recent book, Sunrise (Red Moon Press, 2010). I intend to ask you questions from works in the collection, but feel free to roam wherever your mind takes you.
PY: Fair enough.
JG: Peter, I am especially drawn to one of the poems in the collection, because it works by lack of grammar, in this case punctuation. The poem is the following:
where am I here
I find at least two meanings in the poem. The first is obviously where am I as a question and here as the answer, but without the question mark before here we are led to uncertainty and the whole line becomes a greater question: where am I here. The lack of grammatical marks thus creates a continuous uncertainty, which is what the poem is meant to be. It reminds me of Neitzsche's famous line that we cannot get rid of God because we still believe in grammar. How I understand Neitzsche here is that grammar is the way we structure and understand the world and ourselves as an order, a design, and so we postulate and create what we take as a given rather than a choice. Also, your poem evokes all those biblical passages where God asks a patriarch or prophet where are you and the quizzical answer is always "I am here," as if that were sufficient explanation. But, we live in a different episteme and "here" no longer suffices as an answer to where we are.
Given the profundity of the question raised by writing a poem whose meaning is based on its lack of grammar, I wonder why you did not probe this question in more poems in the collection.
You do have another poem that creates utter uncertainty in the face of great emotional loss by uitilizing loss of our lexicon to express this
word of his death
bees streaming out of a hole
in the dictionary
but this poem retains a grammatic structure, nonetheless (as the lack of punctuation after the first line is a haiku convention and does not add to the meaning of the poem).
PY: Jack, first off I should say that my response to this and other questions is not likely to follow strict logic, or even unstrict logic. I tend to think by association and by looking at things indirectly, a manner born perhaps from being somewhat shy. I try to make direct eye contact, but sometimes I land on a nose or chin and go with what I find there.
When I put the book together, my belief was that by looking at pretty much everything I'd written (and published) over the previous ten years or so, I would discover themes, threads, obsessions, connections and so forth, that I was largely unconscious of over that time. (Even if someone writes from an objective viewpoint, I think there are still likely to be unconscious impulses which lead one to write about certain things and to choose subject matter even when it may appear to simply present itself intentionally).
Odd as it may seem, your question actually helps me understand the placement of this poem in the book. I'll think out loud a little. The first section of the book has something to do with innocence, mostly, and unselfconsciousness which nonetheless begins to erode. Let me say in the state of innocence (pediatrician Donald Winnicott refered to childhood as going on being, there is only a sense of being here, or here-ness. When Adam and Eve were expelled from Eden they were no longer here but in some form of perpetual there. Surely it can be said of most of us that we are seldom here but mostly believe that here, the place where we can be fulfilled, is somewhere else, over there? Searching, searching.
where am I here
seems to relate to the condition of expulsion, and of searching. It makes sense, sense I can now attach to it because of your question, Jack, that such a place would lack structure, lack ground—in other words, be without grammar, and yes, without certainty. It opens up a sense of falling, and that is a theme explored throughout the book. Falling, and holes.
The more I look at it, the more I feel the pain of this four syllable poem. It is possible that this may be one reason I did not explore the question that has arisen for you (and now me) around how a poem without clear grammatical structure may nonetheless (or all the more) have meaning.
The pain is inherent in the uncertainty, the groundlessness of how the poem works and in the acute self-consciousness it embodies. In fact, it barely embodies at all, and that is part of the pain. The body can only be here, which is why many meditation and mindfulness practices focus on it.
But this poem seems to have lost a body, and the poems that follow, while not as lost, in different ways speak to that condition. I believe Antoine de Ste. Exupery has written about his experience when, piloting his small plane, he temporarily lost all sense of horizon (both outside and on his instrument panel, I believe) and did not know, utterly, which way was up, which way was down. He was here, but where was he here?
A moment of terror.
So for me, it's a good question, one that speaks to my wishing to understand myself as a poetical/spiritual/psychological being. Does a poet need to examine the ways the structure of language may limit, or predetermine poetic expression? Of course, but I think depending on the inner strength of the writer, this examination could open new possibilities of perception, or it could lead to great disorientation. I do tend to believe that an artist or spiritual explorer needs to risk disorientation.
where am I here
is kind of locked up in itself. It's a traffic jam on a roundabout.
"Word of his death," though also a poem of pain and loss, nonetheless seems to embody the possibility of movement and change. For the Sufis, bees have great significance, perhaps because they represent the beings that make sweetness in the hive of the heart. Many meanings can be derived from the poem, but one sense could be that the spirit at some point needs to move on to a new workplace; it has outlived the old one with its worn out tools and overused blueprints. There is joy inherent in the poem because it has a heart, at least an implied one.
JG: Let's move to another subject, Peter, one that bears on meaning, relates to grammar, and is one of the key elements in poetry. I am, of course, referring to lineation. I know that you do not consider yourself a haiku poet per se, but a poet influenced by haiku, who writes haiku-influenced, haiku-informed verse. As such, you do not adhere to conventional strictures, such as writing in three lines, necessarily, with a 5-7-5 sound unit to each line respectively. Once, however, we release ourselves from technical strictures, the line in verse becomes problematical. After all, poetry is not prose broken into shorter lines to look like poetry. I have in mind looking at two of your verses that use what I would suggest are unusual patterns and then set them side by side with some that are more conventionally structured, so that perhaps we can conclude something about lineation in verse in general.
The first poem is a good example of how ending a line with a preposition works, whereas usually this would be frowned upon as being somewhat shapeless:
coming out of
a hard house
the flowering dawn
I think this choice of lineation works for two reasons. The first is mimetic. Dawn is not sudden, but gradual, seeping slowly over things until it reaches a certain height in the sky. Secondly, I think it is a matter of the breath that dictates the lineation. If the preposition "of" were put at the start of the second line, the reader would suffocate from the restriction of the form.
Here is another poem that utilizes an unusual lineation:
peels scattered throughout
the grove: Osiris' es-
sence drips from my mouth
I have two views of this poem and why you chose to enjamb, break the word "essence" and place it in two lines. This is a striking example of dexterity in lineation considering that essence is what is intrinsic, what cannot by definition be broken down further in the nature of something.
The first, and more likely, is that Osiris, being the god of sprouting vegetation and fertility, is the superabundance of new life, spring, and this is well-ensonced in your vigorous language, "dripping," "scattered." In short, Osiris's essence cannot be contained it is so prolific and hence the enjambment, the splicing of the word to concretize this. My second view of the poem is based on the fact that as written it falls into syllables of 5-7-5; so, it is possible that you are being ironic in breaking "essence," which cannot be broken, to demonstrate to what lengths it may be necessary to write in the traditional haiku mode.
In either event, I would like to now place alongside these two above poems a few poems that I find more conventionally lineated, to see if a different affect and tone is achieved. What I have in mind are poems that don't end in prepositions or transitive verbs or conjunctions, but are tighter knit.
Here are a few examples:
I know something's there
in the dark
in my body
millions of wings trembling
in a cave
under a budding maple
all that I am
unable to say
Without referring to content or interpretation, although it may be impossible to avoid, I find the latter poems to be more somber in tone, to be deeper and rich in the sound they make and the meaning they evoke. It is not that they are superior poems, it's just that because their form in no way calls attention to itself the reader can forget form and the result is the content is perhaps more constant. If I were drawing on metaphor, I would say the latter three poems sound like they are played on a classical instrument, whereas the above two more experimentally lineated poems sound as if played on electronic instruments. Having said this, I wonder if you'd mind sharing with us what determinates go into your choices as to how to lineate your verses.
PY: Jack, for me first and foremost is that I write something in a manner which I hope will indicate how I wish it to be read, preferably out loud.
Even such short poems as these have a body—to read them (though perhaps not all of them) out loud is to partake of their embodiment. I think I may have said this elsewhere, but it is my belief that while a poem will evoke different thoughts, associations, and reveries for different readers through how it is taken to mean, the bodily experience of reading—how its consonants makes the mouth move, how the vowels resonate in the head, throat, chest and belly, will be more or less basic and similar for all. This is why singing together can be such a profound experience—bodies in communion. No doubt prayer as well. Also my belief that the body has its own form of knowing which is more essential than how the mind knows.
This probably relates to the subconscious. From this point of view there is something in us, something wrapped in pure feeling, which longs to emerge, to come into the light of expression. To know itself. Interaction with the world via the senses is one way, perhaps the only way for this to happen—for us to know ourselves, but from a somewhat mystical standpoint, it may also be true that the world knows itself through us. Doesn't Rilke talk about this?
So I may have gone off track a bit here, but I did warn you about that. I'm an off-track thinker, not by choice, but by discovery: to take myself by surprise, before I have a chance to compose myself or compose the world. This means, really, to find myself saying what wants to be said not what I think should be said. And maybe that's how the lineation of the poems work (when they work)—as a kind of discourse between body and mind where the body holds sway, even though it has invited the mind to come into play. What I seem to be saying is the body, primordial feeling, wants the mind to shed some light on it, but does not want to be overwhelmed or replaced by the mind.
Here is another angle on this, and I take it from Iain MacGilchrist's wonderful book The Master and His Emissary, which is an examination of Western Civilization through the lens of the study of the brain hemispheres. He says that the right hemisphere is primary; its orientation is toward wholeness, to the totality of what is present and presented. The left hemisphere's orientation is more analytical—it takes what has been presented to it apart in order to see how it works. It makes a representation of reality, and has a tendency to believe that representations are more real than the more holistic, intuited, implicit reality of the right hemisphere. Nonetheless, when both hemispheres are in a healthy relationship with each other, the left hemisphere's view will be reabsorbed, so to speak, by the right hemisphere and enlarged there. I don't want to see this in too concrete a manner (which would be the left hemisphere way) but to use it as a way of talking about how something inchoate in us wants to roll around in the light awhile and bring what it has learned back into the fold, so the darkness may shine.
To look more specifically at the poems you present: I like what you say about coming out of- if I were reading this or any of the poems out loud I would honor the line breaks—a palpable pause on the word of.
But I also like reading a poem (out loud) several times with slightly different emphases—shorter or longer pauses, or maybe hanging out with certain sounds, like letting the vibration of of spread out and find some kind of resolution or amplification in the softer f of flowering?
This is all based really on the enjoyment of the body. It's a very sensual approach (to what may often seem mental poems). I think reading one line poems is another matter, and maybe we'll touch on this later.
About peels scattered throughout? yes, this is a poem that, to follow what I said before, the analytical mind becomes engaged with rather quickly in trying to get at why essence is broken as es/sence. Is it merely put on the Procrustean bed of haiku's traditional 5/7/5 structure? Does it mimic Osiris' dismemberment, or the dripping from the mouth? I think if a poem leaves a reader too strongly with the question why, and does not resolve, almost simultaneously, in a heartfelt way of course, then it probably fails. Certainly there can be a tension between the two, which may lead back to the quality of uncertainty discussed earlier. It will be up to readers to determine if this works in this particular poem.
However, the questions that arise from reading the poem on the page may not arise from hearing it read out loud, where the mimetic quality of dripping would be evident, as least as emphasized by me. So maybe it's possible to say that the experience of the poem as spoken is very different from that of the experience of reading on the page. To be more direct about it, the lineation is determined by the action of breath and body. I do enjoy the play of analysis which happens on the page and in the mind, however. Having said this, I feel I need to look at poems I've written which give primacy to thinking and do not come to fullness (embodied, implicit feeling) when read out loud. There may be more than I think, and if I were writing a review of the book I would probably get into this.
Yes, and though I stay away from calling myself a haiku poet, I will admit that there is something in me that is attracted to the 5/7/5 blueprint and likes to play off and with it. Maybe it's like agreeing to have four limbs (I'm a quadropus) and not the eight of an octopus. The body has limits which the dance, for one, plays off and with. There is no exceeding (and maybe no excelling) without limits. Seeds and cells.
I find what you say about the more traditionally lineated poems very interesting and instructive, that they have a more somber tone. It raises questions that I do not have ready answers for, but which may relate to the nature of grief. Would it be true to say that grief does not need a strong exposure to the mind in order to be expressed? In other words, it is not a matter of play and of examination. With grief and deep sadness, the bones themselves speak.
And yet. . .
I like your metaphor of classical/electronic instruments. I enjoy some electronic music—some things by Aphex Twin, or Pete Namlook for example, or Michael Brook with his infinite guitar. But it does seem to go straight to the head—it can lack warmth, and ironically, I think a number of composers of electronic music go to great lengths to achieve a quality of sound inherent in real instruments. Analogue rather than digital. But one can arrive at effects and sounds via synthesizers which are not possible by other means. As this relates to poetry, I would say that experimentation—including with lineation (which is akin to choreography)— can yield interesting and important results but if it does not touch something in us, it may not go beyond interest and analysis. So my question is this: are there feelings and experiences in the core of our being—including depths of grief—which can only be revealed by exploration and experimentation? I feel (and think) the answer is yes.
JG: Peter, let's turn our attention to another related matter, and that is how many lines you set your poems in. The convention of three line poems has its origins in the three parts of the Japanese haiku, which in turn relate to the number of sound units in each part (5-7-5 sound units each bearing a distinct name in Japanese). Once, we vacated the traditional usage decades ago, the three line poem was more vestigial than anything else. Of course, the three line poem does still have its advantages: it is useful for narrative or dramatic poems as it provides a format for beginning, middle, and end.
Let's take a look at some of your poems and see how you use the number of lines they're written in to most advantage.
Here is an excellent example of one of your one-line poems:
snow I know everywhere to touch you
My first impression is that this is a concrete poem, as the elements in it are presumably all supine: the snow, the lovers; so it is natural that the poem should be written flat, in one line. Then, as a matter of formatting, the metonymy between snow and the prone lovers is strengthened in the placement you have them in. Additionally, it seems to me that the nakedness, the clarity of snow equates to the nudity and transparency of the beloved: both are completely revealed and having them set off in such proximity emphasizes this fact. Finally, the length of time on a snowy day for the lover to learn everywhere to touch the beloved is elongated by the one line.
Now, let's have a look at a two line poem, a form rarely used in haiku-like, haiku-informed poems:
the galactic aquarium shatters
our arms ending in starfish
I think the two line format for this poem is especially well-chosen, as the subject of the poem is the I and not-I, and the way to the participation mystique between all things. It is a poem about duality, but a questionable duality. What separates us from being aware of the oneness of things, so that our hands are the starfish in the cosmical sea, is a transparent membrane, like the glass in an aquarium, or what we call the self or ego; it is there but really lacks substance, permanency. Once we recognize that we are what we are conscious of; once we realize our nature is the Greater Nature, the galactic aquarium, the membrane, the glass shatters and we enter what anthropology once called the participation mystique, the mystical awareness of the unity of things.
Now, let's have a look at a three line poem from your collection. I'm chosing one that is unique, inasmuch as it relies on duplication of sounds, is somewhat onomonopoeic, as this satisfies the criteria of a three line poem and will also foreshadow my next question to you.
mosquito she too
insisting insisiting she
is is is is is
The poems is wonderfully mimetic as it perfectly conveys the nature of the subject, the persistence of mosquitos, how once they have you in their sights they keep returning to you, no matter how often you try to brush them away, and the irritating sound to us of their continuous buzzing by us is delightfully onomonopoeic. The three line format allows you to incrementally introduce the features of the subject and this is one of its greatest strengths.
Now, having looked at some of the ways you format your poems, would you mind sharing with us what decisions you make in concluding the number of lines you compose an individual poem in.
PY: Lineation for me is pretty much determined by how I would like a poem to be read by others. That's a general principle for me, but one I don't necessarily stick to, and at times other principles take over, as when I wish a given line, usually the last, to come as a surprise or to play with expectation. I believe our senses are most alive when what we believe to be the case turns out not to be the case. An example might be looking at a tree just after snowfall, and seeing a penetrating blue between branches and assuming it is the sky when in actuality it is that blue that pockets of snow can fill with. There is a moment between assumption and knowledge which is very alive, when the sensation is most pure. I can't help mentioning the famous dictum of Basho about "going to the pine to learn from the pine." I think it may be more accurate to say "go to the pine but look a little away from it; take it in with your peripheral vision, as if by accident". Peripheral vision and hearing allows surprise. Dickinson of course said, "Tell all the truth but tell it slant".
So setting up expectation and then upsetting it is something a three line poem can do which a one line poem cannot. There's manipulation to it, but I doubt it will be effective or authentic unless the sense of surprise inheres for the author as well.
So even there, the lineation is directing the reader, especially if the line break is honored with a brief pause, even where there is enjambment.
A single line poem operates differently for me. From what I've read numerous times, there seems to be a belief, at least among some readers and writers of haiku, that the single line poem is "appropriate" when dealing with—with what?—horizontal events or structures, let's say, like trains or the horizon or something. So Jack, you have read
snow I know everywhere to touch you
somewhat in this manner, but have given it a dimensionality I appreciate. It is entirely possible that I was impelled to go with one line for reasons you've given. However, for me, the one line poem can, at times, operate as a kind of proto-poem, presenting raw data (psychic data; sense data, etc.) without exactly sorting it out, and leaving it for the eader to do so, perhaps even more than is typical of haiku. The reader must determine the speed of reading, must determine emphasis and other elements. The reader may be invited to find alternative ways of reading such a poem, may find parallels, or contradictions or confusions between the discovered versions.
I don't think one line poems come from some kind of wish to innovate. For myself, through the inspiration of haiku having been lead to explore the nexus of poetry and perception, (let's say raw, or wild, perception), it seems a natural or organic development. My interest in this nexus predates my interest in haiku, and probably lead me to it, as to a quantum stepping stone.
So I am interested in the all-at-onceness of perception, the layers and co-occurrences. Haiku speaks to this, of course, and enacts it, by juxtaposing images. Everything is juxtaposed, from boson to bison to binary stars. And probably, not to get too mystical about this, it's a whole lot more intimate than juxtaposition, unless one believes that this is a world of one separate thing next to another separate thing.
So for me, and I hadn't thought about this until now, juxtaposition is a rather misleading term. It's technically, and superficially correct, but that's about it. So with a really good haiku (true of poetry and art in general) there can be two responses: one which notices and even admire technique—"she's very skillful at juxtaposing surprising images"; and, another which comes from a discovery similar to that of the author, that two or more things arise from a single field simultaneously, in some sort of harmony, even if it may be perceived as discordant or disturbing.
It's just saying really that art transcends, but is not separate from technique. A pine tree is bound to the technique of its DNA, and perhaps in the laboratory would be mainly admired for that, but under the stars, in the context of everything, it is everything. Ken Wilber has offered a concept which I find useful. He recognized that particles, for example, are whole things unto themselves. Electrons, neutrons, etc, are whole things unto themselves. An atom is another whole thing unto itself, comprised of those smaller things—it has all their attributes and something more. A molecule takes this a step further—it has all the attributes of atoms and the particles which comprise them, but has something more, something they don't. And so on. He uses the term holon to describe this sense of particles being somehow complete.
In more human terms, you could say that a child is only a child, (and a good thing too), but an adult has all the attributes of a child within the larger field of maturity.
So art transcends but is rooted in technique. Actually, I'm not comfortable with that, because it gives technique a primacy I don't believe it has. I go back to what I said earlier—technique is in the service of insight and discovery. The unconscious calls the conscious mind down to help give shape to something which wants to be understood.
To get back: for me the impulse of the single line poem, at least in some instances, comes from the understanding of co-occurrence, and pushes the technique of juxtaposition a little further, further and at the same time back to something more primitive (prime-ative; first-ative), where in the best sense, things are still confused.
I would also say that art transcends intention. What intention can there be, in artistic or spiritual practice, other than to be open to what needs to be born? I find that there is a good possibility with one line poems that something will emerge which not only transcends intention, but may reveal something difficult or disquieting. (Equally it may reveal the opposite). If an author says, no, I don't like that particular nuance or interpretation, and works to eliminate it, something is likely to be lost. The truth may be lost, its impulse to be seen thwarted.
A poem which maybe speaks to this possibility is
uneasy things grow wings underground
but a poem which enacts it more may be this one:
sunrise darkens the face I dream with
which implies things I don't particularly like, though I don't truly know why, even while it implies things that impel me. Maybe for this reason I ended up feeling it was the most authentic poem in the book, and why I honored it by calling the book Sunrise.
JG: As promised, Peter, my last question technically to you concerns something akin to onomonopia in poetry. The question harkens back to a discussion you began on your blog Sails at The Haiku Foundation in the summer of 2011 and which I feel was never satisfactorily completed. If you recall, you suggested that there was a more originary language than our current language that was more wild, that relied more heavily on sound, that, in fact, meaning adhered essentially to sound in it as opposed to the sound/meaning divide in current languages (although thinking about it it could just as well apply to a new language, as well). You were discussing an article in a similar vein written by Martin Lucas and included in Evolution (Redmoon Press, 2010) and you extrapolated the following from it: you were saying that poetry had an irrational element to it that was lost in interpretation or paraphrase and you went on to conjecture regarding this irrationality that "this quality is inherent in a poem and explication (which cannot present something but can only represent something) drives it away. This means, essentially, that Poetic Spell (the body of the poem) indeed does not operate at the level of linguistic meaning, but closer to the way music operates, affecting us, but "not with meaning per se." It is "how a poem is experienced or felt before being taken up by the conscious mind."
Now, in Sunrise, you provide an example of what you mean by such a poem in one you wrote and included in the volume:
drum down the groundskin
It's a marvelously inventive poem, in which you create words and rely on sound to create meaning: the ever-multiplying magnitude of the power of the thundering sound of being and creation.
My question to you is wherein lies the importance to you of poetry relying essentially on its sound and thus being somewhat dissociated from its meaning, or put otherwise, that meaning would adhere in language's sound alone, without reference to its signfied or referred meaning. As I know from my own practice of writing, the sound of words sometimes does not convey the emotion I wish and then I'm sometimes forced to write off-subject to convey the emotion a particular confluence of things evoked. This stems from the fact that there is no natural relationship between words and things and I think you would like to have a "natural" language where such a relationship exists.
PY: It's a big question. I doubt if it can or really should be completely addressed, or that any exploration will satisfy, unless it is to the extent that exploration itself has a quality of satisfaction to it—the satisfaction of uncertainty? I think that's the nature of poetry, to enable us to reside a while in uncertainty. I don't know if that's the same thing as Frost's "a temporary stay against confusion", but it may be an element of it.
My sense is that within the language we use everyday, or misuse every day, there exists something which is already originary, as you put it, and which we respond to on the level of the body. I don't think my thoughts about this are at all new. Discussing it, I get caught in a dilemma I often feel when writing about what some people call haiku. So maybe I can digress a bit here and say a few things about that.
I am uncomfortable saying that what I write is haiku. Sometimes that feels like a cop-out to me, but I find it helpful—I don't have anyone's chin on my shoulder whispering Japanese words I don't understand in my ear. My discovery of haiku many years ago opened up for me the possibility that with just a few words one could be in the presence of great power, poignancy, mystery, otherworldliness, clarity, precision, space, present-moment nostalgia and so on. I cannot say what it is, but I feel there is an impulse underlying Japanese haiku which opened up those discoveries for people like Basho, but which cannot be bound to Japanese culture. The impulse resided and still resides in a chamber of the human psyche, universally. Can it be otherwise? I do not even know that the Japanese were the first to open that chamber, but they certainly helped reveal it to the world. An analogy would be African-Americans opening up the jazz/blues chamber of the psyche for exploration by cultures around the world. It's a mystery how this happens, how discoveries are made and unlit bulbs on the switchboard light up around the world.
So for me, I like to think that I can be in touch with that impulse, and to let it go where it wants. The impulse needs nutrition, of course, which comes from reading and discussing, but I don't think it wants to stop there, from it has learned. It wants to throw out all kinds of things, just to see if they work. Kind of like nature's profligacy—all those beetles.
That wanting is going to take me away from any concentration I may have on what I or anyone else believes is haiku, though as I've said before, I want to give the believers a lot of encouragement and gratitude and a slice of pizza if necessary, because they are going in the direction they must and maybe after years of diligent practice will show up with a beetle I will cherish. Which leads me to say, though, that too many haiku have pins through their backs—are specimens in a case. But we all know that any really good, living, wild poem is rare.
So how does this apply to sound? I guess it does insofar as what I say may have more relevance to the freedom and play in the kind of writing that interests me than in "haiku". It may be more relevant to questions around what capacities very short verbal utterances can have. So much is made, in discussions about haiku, about the image, and the juxtaposition or disjux between two images. This is a marvelous thing, to put two images together and to see what happens. I think I've said already, that even if one is taken by an image from the outside, it is somehow prompted from the inside. Something inside says "you need to look at that". Or something happens, a toad's throat billows and there is a bracket fungus on a nearby tree that looks like a toad's throat. Many times one might notice something like that and not take it in, until that inner impulse arises and says, "no, take this in". So where images come from, why they come and how, is pretty mysterious.
But it may be true that there are sounds in the body, let's stick with vowel sounds, that are quietly humming to themselves, minding their own business when something shows up and they get a bit excited and want to enter the picture so to speak. The heart is quietly going "ahh" and the mind going "eee" by day and "ooo" in sleep and the belly is going "ohhhh" and then something stirs the heart or the mind or the belly or all three and they want to come up out of the throat and be heard, they want the toad and the fungus to know they are loved, or maybe feared or maybe both.
Then the vowels realize they need the modifying aspects that the consonants bring. The vowels are the spirit-sounds and the consonants are the body sounds that help shape them, bend them, give them something to hold onto and let go of. So all this is happening—it least that's what I'm proposing—below the level of consciousness, or of conscious meaning. They just want to get in the picture, to be the soundtrack. We're watching the movie, we get what the images mean, the symbols and so on, but we feel the music. There's nothing very original in what I'm saying.
So the sound of words is another layer of juxtaposition. It is calling back down to those places of origin in the body, where more vowel sounds are just forming and responding and we feel our heart open (or hurt), we feel our mind cleaned out by the higher pitches, we feel our belly soften, of stiffen, or. . . . And none of this is yet speaking to rhythm and beat and how that effects the muscles and the bones.
Others have written about this very well, and probably more practically than I am here. Donald Hall, for example, in his essay "Goatfoot, Milktongue, Twinbird". I think I have that right. Or Robert Frost, when he refers to sound as "the gold in the ore". He continues: "Then we will have the sound out alone and dispense with the inessential. We do till we make the discovery that the object in writing poetry is to make all poems sound as different as possible from each other, and the resources for that of vowels, consonants, punctuation, syntax, words, sentences, meter are not enough. We need the help of context--meaning--subject matter. That is the greatest help toward variety". To me this is saying what I'm trying to say from another angle. In one sense he is saying that the world is calling out to sound, saying "if you deal with me you will make a different sound than ever before". I am suggesting that sound itself guides experience. So we can juxtapose these to two directions and perhaps find perfect overlap. I believe I said elsewhere that different poets may favor one "direction" over another. I think many a lot of poets who write for Roadrunner are exploring the "sound guiding experience" direction, and also the "image guiding experience" and "language guiding experience" directions.
Looked at from the metaphor of brain hemispheres, the left side of the brain only wants meaning—it wants everything in the laboratory lined up and examinable. Laboratories are very quiet places really. The scientist may be content to hang out right there, with meanings pinned to the table and explicit, but the poet, who may also want meaning and subject matter, is available to the call of the right hemisphere and opens the doors to sound, the vowels, consonants etc coming out to embrace the specimens and wrap them in implicit love, trailing clouds of the sweet night they have come from.
So maybe what I am saying is that sound is the element of the poem that gives meaning meaning—felt meaning; implied meaning. I think of how big some trees are at night—enormous—and how that changes by the light of day. And how in either case a little breeze wraps them in otherworldliness.
And these matters are clearly important for poets in general, though LANGUAGE poets might think it all rubbish. My question is—how does it apply to haiku, or to very short poems that have been injected with haiku-juice? I believe it does apply, but each will have to find out in what way. I have no good answer.
JG: Peter, we're running out of space and time, so I'd like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to you for sitting through this interview. I consider you one of the few best haiku-influenced poets of our time and so it was a considerable delight to have shared your work and time with you. I also consider you one of our foremost thinkers and so it was with great anticipation that I awaited each of your answers to my questions. I mentioned above that the previous question was technically the last I'd put to you. The reason I put it that way is because I'd like to add one last poem to our dialogue, a self-portrait, as it were, and if you care to comment on it, now is the time.
a shakuhachi flute
I step into the wind
with holes in my bones
Whether those holes you mention came from the many wounds you've accumulated in a lifetime, or whether they were openings you cultivated, we can't help but feel that it is precisely because of them that when the world passes through you you make such hauntingly beautiful music.
an unseen bird sings
the dew is red is green is
PY: I take you to have some things in common with me, Jack, such as a great sensitivity which is open to the creative, but also to feeling things deeply, including hurt. I really like your poem: Real enough to feel a paper rose ("Notes from the Gean," 3:3) - maybe that speaks a bit to what I'm saying. Okay Jack.
JG: Okay, Peter. Thank you for sharing your time, your thoughts, your knowledge, and yourself with us. You've been very generous.