Bob Boldman's Haiku
Thus far in the semester, we have looked at a variety of works from authors across various time periods. From such studies, I have taken a strong interest in the work of Robert Boldman. Boldman tends to stray from traditional haiku in format, yet he is able to capture the essence of a moment with clarity. Such clarity can easily limit the haiku's accessibility to a reader, however, I find that Boldman does not sacrifice this much needed openness in his poetry. The following paper will consist of an intimate analysis of selections from Eating a Melon, My Lord's Necklace, as well as The Haiku Anthology. My primary point of discussion includes the compelling relationship between nature and man with reference to Boldman's work.
Nature is often the subject of many haiku, consciously or unconsciously finding its way into a piece. By consciously I refer to the authors' intentional use of season or nature as a subject, or as means to heighten a moment. Unconsciously, refers to my argument that at the root of most any given moment is nature. Nature presents us with both life and death, influencing all of what happens in between. It serves as the orientation to which everything finds a beginning and end. Man's relationship to nature is a dynamic, confusing and very often, ironic one.
For this paper I will consider the three major components of man to be the elements of emotion, intellect and spirit. Boldman uses both the tensions and fascinating compatibility between nature and man to convey interesting and alluring pictures to the reader.
While reading his work, I found it hard to ignore the underlying social commentary. Much of my interest stems from Boldman's ability to offer this as a reading without making it the focus of his haiku. For this reason, I find myself being able to take away more from a given piece than the pleasure of imagining the moment presented.
Having prefaced my analysis with what I consider to be the most intriguing facets of Boldman's haiku, I feel that my analysis will be more easily understood/ appreciated.
I have selected various pieces that I feel are quintessential examples of Boldman's expertise in the field of haiku:
mirror my face where I left it
I mentioned Boldman's tendency to veer from the traditional format of haiku. I, myself, find that the three line format of haiku can be an intimidating challenge when trying to "paint a picture" for the reader. Boldman, however, transcends the confinement of brevity and seems to use it as a way in which to force the reader's mind to travel. This haiku gave me a feeling of routine and offered a static tone. The daily regimen one partakes in can often lead to either a state of zen or a state of mechanical movement. There is an abandoning of oneself either way, expressing both the struggle and ease in completing a day. The one line format also aids in the idea of things being continual and unending, almost as the way in which a mathematician may define the word "lineleaves blowing into a sentenceAgain, the one line haiku is able to specify the given moment, while also opening up the interpretation. I feel this haiku is referring to the power of nature and man's gift of sense: sight, sound, smell, touch and taste. It illustrates the incredible capability of experiencing a sense and it then catapulting our minds into a journey. This journey of thought is sometimes expressible in the form of a sentence of text, but can also remain inexpressible, marveling to a point of being dumbfounded. I imagine this haiku to be referring to both experiences.
This particular haiku was able to trigger a number of thoughts after I first read it, and also after having read it again and again. Every New Year, my friends/family, including myself, share our list of resolutions. The ritual of making New Year resolutions/goals is one that is often performed. In accordance with this, there is a feeling of relief that the year preceding is now behind us, as well as a sense of anticipation of what's to come. We seem to create expectations for our lives in the future, determined to make the most of our now "clean slate" opportunity. The advertisers pounce on this need to improve, offering products that support the American value of quantification: bigger, faster and more=better. Being familiar with this annual event, I enjoy the incongruity of this haiku. I ask myself, "what are the resolutions of a prostitute?"
Boldman invites us into the mind of both the prostitute and ourselves. I feel the social commentary that exists in this haiku refers also to the quantification value regarding sex. To some, more is better, regardless of the emotional status of the relationship. Here, the prostitute acts as the seller of a service, signifying the devaluation of society in its effort to improve. It is easy to feel the cold of this haiku. Immediately, the capitalized text enhances the importance of this day. Yet the following line drives home the idea of feeling empty though it is both second, and uncapitalized.
I try to hurry against the wind
The idea of man versus nature is very apparent in this haiku. From this haiku, I was reminded of how often the world is in a rush against itself, ignoring nature. It seems that the omnipotence of nature should seem to inspire us, but at times it's an obstacle in our "great plan." There is a feeling of lack of control in this moment, fighting against an element that is unpredictable in its ever-changing course. Also, the wind tends to be an element of nature we easily forget. We see it when our hair blows, when leaves swirl and when trees bend, but never take much notice to it always being present. I enjoy the "pressing" felt after reading this haiku. My body easily accessed the feeling of pushing against the wind while in a hurry. The one line format adds to this feeling of persistence and fruitless efforts.
the chill of the bath slicing me into silences
Again, this haiku illustrates what I feel to be the amazing skill of specifying a moment without manipulating it for the reader. The choice of words for this particular moment articulates every sense to be experienced. The sound of the water is heard with the word "slicing" as well as the feeling of numbness with "silences" The feeling felt of a cold bath lives in the phrasing of these words/senses. The slicing seizes the moment of when each part of one's body shivers into numb, focusing on one piece at a time. What's most interesting is how this sensation seems to be both an uncomfortable and comfortable one; masochistic enjoyment. Though the haiku ends in silences, there is not a sense of deadening but rather a feeling of awakening from the straightening toe, to the rise in shoulders.
the surf pulls on a dream
Two very distinct images exist in this haiku. There is the rushing in and out of the surf, as well as the falling in and out of a dream. The feeling is methodic, rhythmic. The images that accompany the word surf allow me, as a reader to truly feel the pulling. It makes sense to me that Robert Boldman is known most for his zen-haiku as this, with many of his other pieces, present a feeling of zen. I find it to be an exceptional skill how Boldman is able to turn the word pull into something gentle, calm and almost sensuous. Often this word is equated with tension and things being rigid, yet here, it can be something delightful and soothing. Again, this haiku highlights the relationship between man and nature, working with one another to find a state of comfort.
I have offered my analysis on but only a few of my favorites from Boldman's work. What I feel can be appreciated throughout all of these is the careful attention paid to articulating a moment with an effective choice in words. Throughout the semester, as a class, we have explored with what differentiates "good" and "bad" haiku. To me, Boldman demonstrates the necessity in reverting to a moment/experience independently from literary manipulation. Rather, the literary tactics used should assist/aid the moment instead of controlling or directing it. Likewise, there is a delicate balance to be found between the author's specificity and room for exploration within a haiku. In order to deem whether a haiku is successful or not, one must consider its overall objective.
My personal feelings are that haiku serves as a medium to
magnify a given moment to the point of consideration. Meanwhile,
the reader's mental filing cabinet is shuffled through, and
perhaps even added to from a travel in imagination.
Boldman, Robert. Eating a Melon. Glen Burnie, Maryland: Wind Chimes Press, 1981.
Boldman, Robert. My Lord's Necklace. Bellingham, Washington: Portals Press, 1980.
Heuvel, Cor van den. The Haiku Anthology. NY: Norton & Co., 1999.
©2001 Randy Brooks, Millikin University, Decatur, Illinois || all rights reserved for original authors