Thursday, December 25, 2008

Jack's turtle (with errors)

What is that Kerouac haiku about a turtle floating on a log? Something like this, though I don't remember it perfectly:

turtle floating downstream
on a log—
looking up

I think this captures Kerouac's essence of the little satori of haiku. In those two words 'looking up' at the end the scene suddenly opens up and we get this glimpse of the serious wild heart of a turtle, its earnestness, our projected anthropomorphic pride and strength, its survival, its pragmatism and realism, its serious up-arching of the neck 'wondering' WTF is going on with this new transport...

It's comical in the sense that all creatures are comical in their necessary self-seriousness, and it conveys both the comedy and the quite wonderful tenderness of this scene with utter concision and brilliance. I am in that moment suddenly, and my heart pours out to it just because of the sheer innocence he conveys. And this is the thing... if you can focus the energy of words like that in haiku, then you create a little nexus through which people can drift into other realities. I am there floating and laughing and crying in turtle world, and somehow knowing something I didn't quite know before. It's worth a lot of struggle, this haiku stuff, just to hit one moment like that.

Apologies if I misremembered it. It was something pretty close.

Edit: Oh, now I just looked it up... It's actually this:

A turtle sailing along
on a log,
Head up

So I remembered it pretty badly, but in fact it makes the point far better in the original version than in my half-assed remembrance. Interesting use of punctuation and capitals there too, to solve some obvious haiku issues about pacing and spacing.

Anyway, I still think that that tiny line, 'Head up', in context, is one of the most moving and memorable and profound lines I've ever read in haiku, or maybe any other poetry for that matter. Haiku is like Sinatra's New York, I think. If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere... Most of us can't make it. It's the three line pressure cooker.


1 comment:

Deb said...

I agree with you on all points. I love haiku simply because those 3 short lines can be so bloody profound. It is a pressure cooker, and it can make you stop and read and stop again and re-read and ponder those 3 lines over and over.

I remember one of the best ones I ever read too, now that is something when a piece sticks with you - as this one did with you.

Now, like you, I can't remember the exact piece but it was something like this:

Night storm -
A boy wipes the sky
from the table

Actually, I stopped posting to read the book that was in for the last 35 minutes haha! Got caught up in it.

Here's another that struck me:

In the passing caboose Christmas lights

Yeah, I like it.

Cheers Steveroni