Of Machines and Men

WHR December 2003

Karakuchi-Ronso -Spicy Haiku Polemics

Of machines and men
Haiku machines and haiku taboos
a two-part onlist essay

Robert Gibson
Centralia, Washington USA

It bothers me to see the American Haiku Machine that grinds out the
standardized manufactured haiku destroy an authentic experience.

Robert Gibson
Posted to WHChaikuforum; Sat Feb 8, 2003, 10:52 am
Message 18692

Of machines and men
Posted to WHChaikuforum
From: Robert Gibson
Date: Wed Feb 12, 2003 1:58 pm

Dear Friends,
1923 to 2003. Some friends have been helping me celebrate my 80th birthday, and it occurred to me that perhaps living for 80 years has given me a perspective that differs a bit from that of younger persons, because it is difficult to be aware of how things are when you have nothing different to compare them to. A dear friend of mine, the anthropologist Clyde Kluckhohn, put it this way,

I don’t know who discovered water but it certainly wasn’t a fish.

I ask you to just look around you. Is there anything in your world that hasn’t been produced by one kind of machine or another? Look at your clothes, your home, the motion pictures you see, the TV programs you watch, the food you eat, the kitchen and pots you cook in, or the restaurant you go to, and ad infinitum. Now there is a Kentucky Fried Chicken fast food in Shanghai. Don’t bother boarding a plane to go see it because it is the same as the one on your corner, it was produced by the same machine.

How do we recognize machine made stuff and things? The most obvious way is to see that they are all alike. The American artist Andy Warhol issued a warning to the world in painting pictures of row upon row of Campbell’s Soup cans. What he is saying, at least to me, that there are a hundred billion cans of machine made Campbell’s Soup out there and if you are not careful your life can be buried under a hundred billion cans of bad soup. World War II was a battle of small machines, and countries turned themselves into big machines to produce the small machines. Those whose big machines produced the most small machines won the war.

I know that I’m addressing some wonderful creative people and any of you could continue this essay with a thousand more examples. But at this point I want to ask: do you think that we can live in a world like this and our minds, our tastes, be unaffected by it? So when I used the phrase “American Haiku Machine,” I was speaking from the point of view of an old man that has watched monsters grow, and has watched those monsters gobble up great chunks of a beautiful world that you who are younger will never know. As for the indignation expressed at my use of that phrase I can only quote from MacBeth:

Me thinks the lady protests too much.

Haiku machines and haiku taboos

Robert Gibson
Posted to WHChaikuforum
Wednesday March 19, 2003 2:53 pm
Dear Friends,

A short time ago I made a comment about “haiku machines” in an e-mail that turned out to be a matter of concern to several friends. Now I would like to suggest one reason for the development of “haiku machines” and what might be done to lessen their effect if not to eliminate them.

First I think it necessary to define the term taboo and point out the universal function of taboos. Taboo is a word taken from Polynesian culture. In that culture the term refers to any person, place or thing that has so much power that it is dangerous to have anything to do with it or them. The islanders feelings about anything taboo is something like our response to a sign reading: DANGER-HIGH VOLTAGE.

As taboo became a general term its meaning gradually changed to something like: A thing taboo is an action that good or wise people avoid and people that keep a given taboo are somehow superior to those that do not keep it. Also keeping the given taboo holds together and identifies groups that share the taboo.

Here let me list a few well known taboos.

• We don’t eat fish
• We don’t eat dogs or cats
• We don’t have sex outside of marriage
• We don’t show our bodies in public
• We don’t discuss earthy matters at the dinner table or not at all.
• We don’t bow down to graven images
• We don’t sing winter songs in the summer
• We don’t smoke marijuana
• We don’t do kinky sex things

Now let’s look at some taboos in haiku.

• We don’t write about sex
• We don’t use more than one word ending in ³ing² in a haiku
• We don’t write single sentence haiku
• We don’t write about urinating or defecating or menstruating or farting or even eating

There are more but these will do for now.

How do these taboos function to create the mass produced haiku of haiku machines? One way is that these taboos, consciously or not, become the tools of the gate keepers. Editors and/or contest judges, when faced with a great number of haiku, almost always arrive at winners via a process of elimination and this is how taboos decide who is in and who is tossed aside. Taboos supply an easy rational for narrowing down selection and making the judging job, not easy, but manageable.

Of course the choosing of winners and losers becomes feedback to haiku writers and they start eliminating on the basis of taboo right at the source and taboo haiku never reach the editor or judge. Over a period of time this process can narrow down haiku to the perfect haiku type ready for mass production and the creation of a haiku machine.

If we look at the history of haiku a pattern of imitation and imitation of imitation and imitation of imitation of imitation goes on and on and the haiku world has to wait for a messiah to throw the mess out and begin the process all over again. Even though I can make some suggestions for counteracting this process, this is something that deserves the attention and creative ability of the entire haiku community. And awareness of the problem is my first suggestion. Another might be a critical look at individual taboos to decide just how much weight in terms of preference should be given to a taboo. We might ask ourselves whether or not in judging a given taboo, Does the breaking of the taboo produce a better haiku? Another thing is let¹s stop taking ourselves so damn seriously. You don’t have to always color between the lines.

Haiku is an art form, not a bingo game.



This entry was posted in Haiku, Vol 3-2 December 2003 and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Of Machines and Men

  1. I thought Robert might enjoy this haiga on my blog.
    Loved this article. It worries me too, as does wading through the massive number of haiku on the web, looking for the few that find the heart. I do not envy editors!
    One of my pet peeves (not that I haven’t written plenty like this) is the formulae: natural image / poet’s catharsis as juxtaposition.

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