Marlene Mountain's Own Haiku Path
Marlene Mountain is truly an innovative haiku author who has done much to explore every available side of her art. As a haiku poet, Marlene constantly fights the stereotypes of haiku as she searches for new ways to express herself. I believe that it is this fearlessness in which she explores the versatility of haiku and passion that she expresses that makes her such an amazing poet. It is especially her development in what she has dubbed “unaloud haiku” and one-line haiku that makes her the truly amazing haiku author that she is.
Marlene’s first collection, the old tin roof, was the first to introduce me to her innovative style of haiku. And I must say, it was not at all what I was expecting. I’m not particularly crazy about visual haiku, so it’s easy to see why I was a bit disappointed when I first flipped through Marlene’s book to see that she is obviously a fan. Little did I know.
An avid painter, Marlene was the one to coin the term “unaloud haiku.” (I found it amusing to learn that she chose that term not only because her haiku lack descriptive language, but as a pun on ‘unallowed,’ which she felt that her haiku were.) (Mountain, from the mountain, sec 2, pg 4) What makes her unaloud haiku unique from most visual haiku, however, is that the visual element that she adds to her haiku does more than just make it pleasing to view on the page. The unique arrangements of the letters add entire other layers to the image which she has painted for the reader. Marlene’s unaloud haiku evolved from her love of painting and integrating language into her art. Her first attempt came in 1977 with this unaloud haiku:
(Mountain, a woman writes, pg 2)
This haiku not only opened the door for Marlene to the world of haiku, but birthed her passion for the celebration of women, which shall be discussed later in this paper.
The first of Marlene Mountain’s unaloud haiku that I found myself enjoying I discovered in the old tin roof as shown below.
(Mountain, pg 67)
Yes, it is true that this haiku does not verbally describe the scene. Only one word is used, yet, this reader sees in this haiku a vibrant image as clear as any traditional three-lined haiku. I can distinctly see the shimmering, wavering ripples on the water (in my mind, it’s a lake) as the pregnant moon hovers above. The very simplicity of this haiku makes it all the more beautiful.
My favorite of all her unaloud haiku, however, is that which follows:
(Mountain, the old tin roof, pg 35)
Without the diagonal text, it is nothing more than a slightly creepy haiku about road kill. Add the visual element, however, and the scene suddenly springs to life. One sees the stiff little legs of the cat jutting out into the air, seemingly pointing at traffic as it whizzes by. Suddenly, this morbid haiku becomes pretty funny. Still morbid, but very funny.
In writing this ode to Ms. Mountain’s work, however, I was struck with a conundrum. In order to fully appreciate her unaloud haiku, one of hers really should be compared with one by another author. But I do not feel that there is any other author out there (of those I’ve been exposed to in my limited haiku experience) that writes true unaloud haiku. I feel that the visual aspect of Marlene’s haiku is an art in and of itself, not simply an accessory to embellish the haiku. So instead, I took what knowledge I have on unaloud haiku and took the liberty of attempting to write my own. If anything, Marlene’s will look amazing simply by comparison.
Mine definitely lacks some of the depth and poignant meaning that Marlene’s unaloud haiku possesses, but I really enjoy it none-the-less. I feel like the combination of two forms of art makes the expression of complex emotions even more attainable. I like that when looking at it, I see the image first, and only when the words have been deciphered can the deeper level of understanding be comprehended. Which, in my opinion, is one of the makings of good haiku.
Marlene has also made great strides into the development of one-line haiku. During their first appearances, she found herself in the middle of divided opinions; many of her colleagues felt that a one-line haiku can’t really be considered haiku at all, while others felt that while they could, it was only in special cases. (Mountain, from the mountain, sec 2, pg 7) Myself, I tend to lean more towards the side of acceptance. I do not care for 100% of her one-line haiku, but then I’ve yet to meet an author whose work I like 100% of the time. She also, however, has some one-line haiku, such as the following, which I rather enjoy:
the old man mends the fence his father strung
(Mountain, the old tin roof, pg 65)
Granted, it’s true that this haiku could have been written like so
the old man
mends the fence
his father strung
but I believe that it was written as one line with a purpose. When written as one line, the image is much more unified; rather than having three pieces to a puzzle, we have a picture. I also feel that the format fits the tone of the haiku. Even before you’ve read the text, one has a wide open, simple feeling to it, the kind one might find when standing in an open field next to rotting fence posts. I believe that where three-line haiku allow you to peep through the peephole and view the image inside, one-line haiku throw open the window and let you stick your head out.
I feel that Marlene’s greatest accomplishments, however, lie in her linked on-line haiku. Set up much like a rengay, she links one-line haiku to form a block of text consisting of anywhere from two to close to fifty links. Now, the traditionalist might look at these linked poems and think, “Why, these are nothing more than free form poems! This isn’t haiku at all! …damn hippies…” Ah, so it may seem. But look again, my uptight friend. While the links together may tell a story or share a similar idea (and they often do), the links (at least most of them) are indeed, self-sustaining one-line haiku. That, my friends, is the beauty of Marlene’s linked haiku. The way I read them makes them like a dream, where images ebb and flow from one moment to another. A wonderful example of such
verse is entitled “you arrive,” and I discovered on her webpage.
you arrive i touch the journey
our taste in dry air
through cotton you find my nipple
i brush against your nipple
your voice sound of genitals
high head of beer
in mind in my body
in my body
so much to say we touch again
quiet lips quiet talk
(Mountain, you arrive)
Though the format may be a bit unorthodox, this haiku clearly has all the attributes of a linked haiku verse. The links are (for the most part) self-sustaining. Each link can be connected to the link before and after it. And most importantly, each link gives the reader a very clear image without explicitly spelling it out. Looks like a one-line linked haiku to me! Other wonderful examples of these include too much pain they keep saying and her collection entitled pissed off poems and cross words, both of which can be found on her website.
What I admire the most about Marlene’s work, however, is not the techniques that she utilizes, but her ferocious insistence on remaining true to her passions. Haiku has always been, and will forever be a means of expression for Marlene. According to her memoirs, Marlene’s interest in haiku began when she realized that as much as she loved painting and photography, “’nature’ did not fit well within a square or rectangular canvas.” (Mountain, from the mountain, sec 1, pg 2) What’s interesting to see, however, is the growth that her haiku go through from this beginning to the present. The haiku in her first collection, the old tin roof, is very earthy and timeworn. Having read her current work, the haiku in this first collection seems very tentative, almost generic. The haiku gives the reader very few hints about the author or her passions, which, according to the Zen theory of haiku, is a good thing. However, one has only to read bits of her newer haiku to realize that there is so much more to Ms. Mountain than the old tin roof reveals. Marlene is a regular little spitfire, and doesn’t hold back anything. She writes about things that matter to her and that she’s passionate about. Just read her collection pissed off poems and cross words. It’s this passion, however, that sets her so far apart from her colleagues. Content is so important to Marlene (Mountain, from the mountain, sec 3, pg 12), more so, I feel, than making what the world considers “beautiful haiku.” I appreciate this loyalty to the heart, and I feel that her haiku, though maybe a little technically wanting (according to who?), is expositionally more valuable than any Basho.
Of all Marlene’s work that I’ve read thus far, the most inspiring has been her shetrillogy haibun. (Mountain, shetrillogy) This fusion of prose and one-line haiku celebrates the beauty and strength of women in a male dominated world in what Marlene has dubbed “‘womanspirit’ haiku.” (Mountain, a woman writes, pg 2) She uses altered English, changing spellings to add her own spin on the meaning. For example, the word ‘presidents’ becomes ‘presidense,’ and ‘freedom’ becomes ‘freedumb.” The piece is both delightfully satiric and cynical and beautifully uplifting. It actually inspired me so much that after I read it that I had to go to the dance studio and dance.
Yet, despite the absolute brilliance of her haiku and haibun, Marlene doesn’t take herself too seriously. Haiku may be a way of life for her, but she’s not above laughing at herself. The best example of this is the “anonymous” review she wrote for her collection the old tin roof. (Mountain, anon review) She goes through her work haiku by haiku and makes complete fun of it; hilarity ensues. I admire the fact that Marlene can be so passionate and outspoken about her beliefs, yet grounded enough to realize that haiku is not the end-all-be-all, but one of life’s pleasures.
Marlene Mountain defies just about every rule of haiku. To the untrained eye, her haiku don’t even look like haiku. And to the traditionalist, they just look like a pile of radical free-form poetry. But to me, Marlene’s haiku look like…well, haiku. Amazing and inspiring haiku, which have helped me to open my own mind, and teach me that haiku is not always three lines long and about nature. They are an expression of the heart.
Mountain, Marlene. "Anon Review: the Old Tin Roof." Marlene Mountain Homepage. 1976. 25 Apr. 2006 <http://www.marlenemountain.org/essays/sreview_anonreview.html>.
Mountain, Marlene. "A Shevolutionary Haibun." Marlene Mountain Homepage. 1987. 25 Apr. 2006 <http://www.marlenemountain.org/essays/haibun_shetrillogy.html>.
Mountain, Marlene. "A Woman Writes a Haiku Summer Day." Marlene Mountain Homepage. 1981. 25 Apr. 2006 <http://www.marlenemountain.org/essays/essay_awomanwrites.html>.
Mountain, Marlene. "From the Mountain." Marlene Mountain Homepage. 1999. 25 Apr. 2006 <http://www.marlenemountain.org/backward/ftm_0_cover.html>.
Mountain, Marlene. The Old Tin Roof. 1976. 35-67.
Mountain, Marlene. "Too Much Pain They Keep Saying." Marlene Mountain Homepage. 22 Feb. 2005. 25 Apr. 2006 <http://marlenemountain.org/1lhseq/1lhseq_74_83/1lhseq_toomuch.html>.
Mountain, Marlene. "You Arrive." Marlene Mountain Homepage. 22 Feb. 2005. 25 Apr. 2006 <http://marlenemountain.org/1lhseq/1lhseq_74_83/1lhseq_youarrive.html>.