haiku and politics


Haiku is a medium of observation, therefore by definition it is neutral in terms of politics. Its role is not to pontificate, but rather to record. In this sense, it’s a lot like photography: the act of capturing a static image without prejudice, and without an accompanying narrative.

And yet the camera and the haiku are in the hands of individual humans, each of whom possesses a world view and a sense of what is and isn’t worthy of recording. With spring threatening to visit New England any day now, I want to write about daffodils and the Red Sox, but I find myself unable to refrain from reacting to the omnipresent news. Before I’ve shaved in the morning, I’ve weighed in on (or incited) one or more Twitter wars. The overcast sky becomes a metaphor for a bleak future; and the dirty snow a prefab description of every corrupt politician in Washington. In short, I turn into a political haiku poet shortly after I wake up each morning.

Political haiku have a long history that parallels that of haiku itself. Matsuo Basho, commonly considered to be the first Japanese haiku master, wrote:

summer grasses
all that remains
of soldiers’ dreams

At first glance, this poem is a meditation on nature, but it quickly expands to become a commentary on the transience of humanity, hastened by war. Basho lived during the Edo period, a time marked by war and a feudal form of government. While the great master embarked on many journeys in his lifetime, searching for inspiration from nature, even he wasn’t able to escape the politics of his era.

Truth be told, I’d love to write about anything else, but the persistent 24-hour news cycle has become the proverbial gum on my shoe — unless I throw out the shoe, I end up tracking it everywhere. Sometimes I force myself to focus on a specific word prompt or diversionary subject matter (thank you, baseball season!), but I find that my most genuine observations flow from an immediate response to the world around me. If I can’t escape it, I’ll just have to document it.

today’s forecast —
a world
of mud

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