Haiku and The Bard

I’m a wri…

I’m a writ……

I could never finish the sentence, like Fonzie in that episode of Happy Days trying to admit he was wrong. “I was wro…” he said. “I was wro…”

I’m a writer.

I couldn’t state that unequivocally until I found my writer’s balls. Being with a woman who loved me and wanted my best and being in a circle of men who were long-term listeners and witnesses were keys in loosening my tongue and freeing my spirit.

I’m a writer. I said it. I learned to get past the bile, the fly caught in my throat, the feeling that I wanted to puke, the heart-pounding, the voice saying, “You are a fraud, a no-talent fraud” and “everyone wants to be a writer.” I had to overcome the gag reflex to even speak it.

I used to wonder if writing was my purpose, but that didn’t feel right. This felt more like DNA level, baked in the cake, like coming out if I were gay, or saying, “I’m right-handed.” It is much closer to the bone than some declared purpose, in the same manner your purpose isn’t “being right-handed,” if you were simply born that way. One might say “My purpose is to show others how learning to be ambidextrous can change their lives,” for example, if so moved.

In that spirit, for awhile I thought my purpose might be to condense the plots of each of Shakespeare’s plays to a haiku. Seventeen syllables in the 5-7-5 format. I felt called to this for several reasons, all related to what Annie Dillard says in one section of The Writing Life.

“Why do you never find anything written about that idiosyncratic thought you advert to, about your fascination with something no one else understands? Because it is up to you. There is something you find interesting, for a reason hard to explain. It is hard to explain because you have never read it on any page; there you begin. You were made and set here to give voice to this, your own astonishment.”

I thought this sounded right and couldn’t recite it without tears. “My own astonishment is worth something. Annie says so.”

Haiku has always astonished me, and at one point I was with a group of men that liked haiku and sent them out to each other via e-mail. I enjoyed Jack Kerouac, too, and it’s been said that of all the Beat writers, he was the most perfectly attuned to haiku. Supposedly he wrote the first one ever about American baseball. It came out in 1959 on Blues and Haikus, a record on which he read his haiku with jazz accompaniment.

Empty baseball field

– A robin,

Hops along the bench

Fans of Kerouac’s volume The Dharma Bums will also remember that Japhy, the fictionalized name of the real Gary Snyder, carried a four-volume haiku and said – “A real haiku’s gotta be as simple as porridge and yet make you see the real thing.” Astonishment! Something idiosyncratic to which I advert!

I have always loved Shakespeare, and still enjoy reading the plays even more than seeing them staged. I treasure the gasp-worthy language and his host of invented words that have become part of the English language – even when I don’t understand what’s going on. I’m greedy for his sentences and his wordplay, but I’m not a scholar of William Shakespeare.

Finally, I thought it would be a useful way to make The Bard more accessible to modern readers, including me. I’d have to learn the content of his work so deeply I could generate 17 essential syllables per play and make it accessible. Six hundred twenty nine total syllables. Thirty seven plays. Simple haiku, simple Shakespeare. I thought, here’s my astonishment. Haiku! Shakespeare! Helping modern readers! I got started with my purpose.

Here are a few examples–

Twelfth Night (I always read it during the Christmas season)

Seb and Viola,

Twins, shipwrecked, presumed dead, they

live! Each marries well.

Hamlet (because, well, it’s Hamlet.)

Dad slain, Hamlet pissed.

A play within a play, he

Uncle, others die.

Henry V (because it kicks ass)

Prince Hal, invades France,

gives greatest locker room speech,

With five to one odds.

You see the difficulty here, with my first three Shakes-kus? They suck, first of all, and don’t get at the crux of the plays. They’re not even good haiku, though the form is honored. As I mentioned above, I’m no scholar, just a lover of language. I would have to devote years to really understand all the nuances and content to be able to boil it all down to 17 syllables each.

I’m 66 now and time is of the essence.

Therefore, I’m intuiting that my real purpose may lie elsewhere. Lately, I’ve been thinking that maybe it’s on me to create a great “Ode to The Women We’ll Never Have,” since I see so many of them every day, something to recite and give us strength when we need it most, when we know we need to let it go. Another astonishment!

Perhaps something like this –

Here’s to the women who broke our hearts, the women we couldn’t have had.

Here’s to the women who left us breathless, the ones who drove us mad.

Here’s to the women we see on the street, the women in the clover.

Here’s to the women with the sexy eyes, the ones we masturbate over.

Now that I look at it, I’m thinkin’ haiku again. Maybe I’ll start there. I’ll keep you posted. This purpose thing ain’t easy.

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