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Beyond the Near Distance

Richard Gilbert
Frogpond, 27:1, Spring 2004

why and
why not

                Rajiv Lather (Frogpond 26:2)

 This poem has no time, as the horizon has no space: sky and Earth meet in a two dimensional line, at an outer limit of sensual image. Just as the dimension of "horizon" appears, "why" a question-word of causation inverts the exterior image, launching us into the center of an abstraction, an unanswerable question. Impelled by rhythmic substitution occurring in the next two lines (a similar rhythm repeated but with different wording), the reader cannot pause for breath or concept as the first "why" is extended then dashed against the inversion: "why not."

 It seems as though location itself has disappeared, by the final "not" of the poem; an elegant and playful extinction of meaning. Do you return to the horizon to gaze out again? Simone Weil has written that "distance is the soul of beauty," and distance seems one concern of this haiku. The horizon marks an edge of visibility, recedes or retreats as we advance; something we can see but not touch except through imagination. Does the horizon inhabit an ache to move closer to that hovering sense of soul, at the furthest extension of perception? As this haiku presents distance and limits, it brings soul. In form, the haiku is like a window, the single word of the top line split symmetrically by the two-word lines beneath, suggesting a dialectic base holding an overarching synthesis — with a sense of pun, the horizon's conceptual curve is revealed. Rhythmically, "horizon" is an extensive word, full of vowels and breath, which contrasts starkly with the clipped, cut rhythms that follow: a why for above, and "why not" for below the line of the thought-horizon.

 Where shall we look to find this haiku? Towards philosophical speculation, or a point at the far limits of sight? The reader lands in new haiku locations, which seem to contain a number of diverse and disjunct conceptual landscapes arising in a few short sharp shots of instants. Yet that horizon remains sensual, even languorous, bringing the sense of weather, sun or moon rising or setting, clouds becoming distant and miniscule, disappearing into the limit of sky. Without this strong, imagistically evocative word, the haiku would fall into abstraction, lose its ground or earth.

 Communication in haiku seems often to be a play of the direct and indirect, of first-images and thoughts followed by resonance, displacement and return. Here the contact is extremely abrupt and irruptive; contextually shocking. If "horizon" is taken as the fragment and "why and / why not" the phrase, we can find several points of disjunction beyond the main kireji ("cutting" word). Due to the disjunction of rhythmic substitution, a second juxtaposition separates the haiku phrase of lines two and three: “why and” -- “why not."  Each collocation in the phrase creates additional eddies of disjunctive irruption: why--and, and--why, why--not. In its play with the concepts of horizon and polarity, this haiku is unique and creative.

 One of the problems that haiku confront is a Cartesian split: a kireji-break creates two disjunct parts to the poem, implying that the poetic world is a representative duality: objective/subjective, human/nature, image/thought, movement/stillness, inner/outer, etc. Successful haiku subvert this dualistic separation, inculcating unique, qualitative interactions with the reader's consciousness: a novel coherence arises in the poem, not directly indicated by the text. However, if this element of subversion is not sufficiently nuanced, juxtaposition becomes formulaic, hackneyed, and the world remains in pieces. Here, nuance is provided by multiple disjunctions which are both semantic and conceptual. Lather's haiku tests the limits of duality in haiku by heightening our consciousness of it; subverting the habitual use of juxtapositional function altogether, as semantic and conceptual realities are questioned. Motivated by a sharply intelligent sense of humor, the context of this poem is the horizon of haiku -- gazing out one senses its solution.