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January 22, 2021


Occidentals pretending to an oriental sensibility may amount to an amusing sideshow. But, these are perilous times; so let us discuss the abomination of poetry made to appear in blackface at the Inauguration.

The talented Ms. Gorman is a tool in the hands of market forces, now in convulsions to reverse the mistake they made with Trump. Let us draw a line between verse written for any purpose other than posterity, and poetry. Godspeed Ms. Gorman in her aspiration to become a poet, and good for her to quote Robert Frost's accidental Inaugural poem in her own polemical branding exercise.

Whoa, Dave Read. Do you read these haiku as a pair of "occidentals pretending to an oriental sensibility"? If a Chinese poet were to write a sestina, would he or she be an "oriental pretending to an occidental sensibility." Dear me, I thought poetic forms were available to all.
As to your second sentence, I hope someone else comments.

Yes indeed, Tony Paris, thanks for asking. Regional sensibilities vary by region; what is chic in Paris could land a Riyadh woman in prison. The haiku was developed by people in an inward-looking, if not insular, society. That doesn't mean Jimi Hendrix couldn't have been an ace on koto, but, he a guitar fit him to a t.

Today, the haiku is used to trick pupils into thinking they may be poets. Schools don't use sestina, nor tanka, even, because that would require too much of the poor, benighted teacher.

Incidentally, the syllabic count is the least important aspect of a haiku, which must be a spare and ecstatic expression of man in nature. Anything else is a tercet, to be formal about it. And don't fret, please, about pretending - it's not a bad thing.

Dave Read, you obviously know so much more than I that it is a treat to read your response to my comment, and I don't mind your condescending tone. That's how professors should sound, also with pomp and dignity IMHO, especially when speaking to someone whose existence is merely virtual and probably not their intellectual equal.

In particular I didn't know that syllabic count is the least important aspect of a haiku. That took me by surprise!

Also your idea that "the haiku is used to trick pupils into thinking they may be poets" is a beautifully formulated indictment of the creative writing industry that Kenneth Koch, who taught these two haiku-trading jokers, helped to establish. Have you written at length about this?

Your praise of pretense makes me wonder whether you are someone else pretending to be you. Thanks for your consideration.

I'd like to add that I actually like these haiku and I meant "jokers" respectfully.

Where high breakers roar
I read the stirring words of
David and David,

and think of Stevens
who'd quell reality for

In the early 1970s, I was in one of the first collegiate writing mills, run by the guy who wrote "The Book of Forms;" there were a handful then, and more than 800 now. In the meantime, the ultimate corporate shill, GE-manufactured Reagan, is deemed a statesman, the overgrown adolescent Clinton is idolized, Bush, Bush, Trump. Post hoc ergo propter hoc is a logical fallacy, so how do we account for the sure, steady decline in the ordinary citizen's ability to parse a sales pitch? I dropped out in the 60s, lucked-out of the draft, finished a BA and did a year of law school, but was too precious, too sensitive a soul, either to buy-in or to sell-out. In my 60s, I'd built up enough scar tissue to wade into the public square. Look what BigPharma loot did to Poetry. There oughta be a law!

I have you on a lofty perch, Tony, for your initial response, and I'm getting a crick in my neck as I seek to speak up to you. I'm so furious at the state of affairs in the world of poetry that I forget to edit for tone. Thank again for your interest. If you'd like to read my stuff, I publish poems here:

Some of the comments here are rhetorically quote complicated and (maybe deliberately) controversial. But I would just like to say that the use of haiku as a form of correspondence seems inspired to me.

Dear Grace: We're grateful
to you for your elegant
smart haiku comment!

Dave Read, I admire your willingness to say things that would earn you derision or worse from the "shaming police" on Twitter. My roommate in college had a copy of "The Book of Forms" by Lewis Turco. May I ask whether you disapprove of these haiku on an a priori basis (because the poets are masquerading) or because the writing wasn't all that exciting, or what? Just curious. Thanks again.

I think my original comment should be an adequate answer, Tony. But to elaborate, sort of, I see the Inaugural poem as both a cynical start to the 2024 campaign - what a desirable demographic the wonderful Ms. Gorman represents, and an especially valuable branding event arranged by whatever market forces represent her. The likes of Robert Frost serve neither purpose - never did, never will! And, I don't disapprove of the haiku series, nor would I if they were called tercets. I merely took advantage of an opportunity to sound off.

I will definitely keep on reading your other stuff. Thanks. Your content was helpful and wonderful!

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I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman


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