In the Totalkunst Gallery on August 12th, Gerry Smith led a haikuisation workshop. The notion of haikuisation had been the process behind one set of works in Gerry’s exhibition for I AM NOT A POET, about which he wrote:
12 Haikuisations. These reductive works demonstrate the simple writing strategy of haikuisation. These texts are based upon works by the following authors:Nicolas Evans, Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe, Samantha Harvey. William Heiensen, M.R.James, A. L. Kennedy, Heinrich Von Kliest,Robert Maugham, William McIlvanney, Georges Simenon (twice) and Emma Smith.
For the workshop, Gerry brought along a number of books of short stories, and we added others from the The Forest’s book cabinet. He explained how the basic process was to take the first line of a story, then turn to the end of the story and add the last line.
Sometimes, of course, the process produces something felt to work, other times not. Gerry noticed that, as he explored this method, certain genres seemed to work whilst others did not, and it was interesting to map the structure of particular genres on to the micro-interventions and sampling of the process of marginalisation.
I noted that Smith’s use of structure also allowed a space for a more subjective “I think this works” or “this doesn’t work.” This didn’t lead the original restriction to be abandoned, but might encourage a repetition until something more satisfying is produced.
Gerry had earlier commented “I’m not a poet, I am an intermedia artist.” I wondered how much this judgment of produced texts was a literary one, concerned with grammatical and narrative coherence, evocative and suggestive description, satisfying structural arc, even over its short duration.
The speed and simplicity of haikuisation means it is pleasurable and playful to enact. It leaves space and time for considering what is produced, both the materiality and content of language. As “author” or “editor” texts feel like one’s own personal discovery, whilst also removed from self-expression.
Smith’s own examples in the exhibition seemed informed by a sense of coherence balanced against (and this was also a source cited by Gerry) a Shlovskian sense of “making strange.” For example –
Confronted by a whole book of short stories, I applied haikuisation to reading the whole book. The first line of the first story, then the last line of that story. If that didn’t work going to the next first or last, until finding a pairing that “resonates.” Then starting with whatever is the next beginning or ending…
Of course, the question arises where is the “haiku” in haikuisation (A: at the beginning). One other topic of our conversation before the workshop had been a Scottish history of concrete poetry and minimal poetry (from Edwin Morgan, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Tom Leonard, through to Alec Finlay, Julie Johnstone’s Island magazine, Nick-e Melville and Smith’s own work, amongst others).
The haiku was a part of this (for example Alec Finlay’s renga platforms) but perhaps better understood as informing a range of minimal forms, most notably (in different ways in IHF’s work and Smith’s own) one word poems, and the diverse procedures/ intentions of/ from Oulippo and Fluxus.
Smith’s own haikuisations (see above) suggest further proximities to prose poems. Haikuisation is perhaps best thought of as an alchemical process, in which the haiku’s structure, relation to nature, history, the seasons, the moment, and social custom, exist as a formative element of a “gestural poetry” that opens/mutates into the contemporary.
Although to very different ends, the re-writing of Journey to the Far North that is Andy Fitch and Jon Cotner’s Ten Walks/ Two Talks – a mapping of physical and verbal perambulations around Manhattan 2011 – also finds such contemporary (trans-) form for the haiku (and Basho).
Cotner and Fitch’s use of the dialogue form, their verbosity and humor, ask how such strategies relate to Smith’s haikuisation, whose appropriation does function in part as a kind of metaphysical jest, its resultant meanings a jokers twist on more long winded methods of composition, that is also a nod of reverence to what such forms make possible.