Saturday, April 16, 2011

Life Is Like Life

I mentioned obliquely when it appeared that Gil Student/Hirhurim posted abouthalacha/art/haiku/my book. I linked to it then. I just gave a look at the site and found that there are 27 comments. I thought it would be nice to add my comment and response (I emailed Gil when the piece first appeared). I realized that my comment would run long. I don't fully grasp the etiquette of blogging, even though I've been doing it for six and a half years. I suspect that it's proper to keep comments brief, otherwise it begins to resemble a hijacking. When you have a comment to make that's long enough for a full post then it may be time to start your own blog.

I recently wrote that it's good to ask yourself what good could come from your post before posting. I hope that the words of Yonatan ben Uziel can be applied to my postings, "Not for my honor, and not for the honor of my family, rather for Your Honor - so that arguments should not increase amoungst the Jewish People - Lo lichvodi velo lichvod beit abba, ela lichvodecha - shelo yarbu machloket beYisrael." I pray that my writing brings peace to all - including me.

I read the comments from the bottom up. I can't/won't respond to every comment. Here in my blog I do it my way, free-flowing while keeping within certain rules, which leads us to our starting point by way of two original poems.

Structureless poems;
do they exist? he asks me.
I think of Wynton:
"There's no freedom in freedom,
only freedom in strucure."

Wynton Marsalis said the quote cited above regarding jazz. His thought always reminds me -lehavdil - of "ein lecha ben chorin elah mi she'oseik beTorah." I think about the true meaning of freedom as Pesach comes around again:

Freedom in freedom,
Is it the right way to go?
Wynton Marsalis shakes his head no
"No freedom in freedom," he says
"only freedom in structure"
It's de rigueur

Talmudic rabbis agree
This we must understand
In Egypt, Israel, any land
There is no free man
Without the Torah of G-d.

Several commenters on Gil's post, "Judaism is like Haiku," made points about what defines a haiku. One reader noted that a haiku must be about nature, another questioned if it's just an elementary school thing or high art. I direct anyone who's curious about haiku to Jane Reichhold. You can read her work at, and you can view a wonderful workshop of hers about haiku (which opens with major misconceptions about haiku) by following this link.

Someone mentioned that their favorite haiku is the Shma. I first became aware of this idea when an article on this subject was posted on That piece has another point to it, and - IMHO - is worth reading (it happens to be short).

I recently wrote about and shared a youtube clip of what is considered by many to be the quintessential haiku. That clip illustrates that sounds in Japanese are not what we call syllables in English. The whole 5-7-5 rule is a Japanese thing. American poets who write haiku today all seem to agree that the structure of American haiku is defined as a three line poem of short lines, totaling less than 17 syllables (with the middle line, generally, being longest). You don't have to dismiss the Shma as haiku theory based on Hebrew grammar (i.e. the way I transliterated it) because it's not a matter of syllables in the first place. Still, I find the Shma as haiku idea cool, standing somewhere between the people who think it's ridiculous and those who see it as a proof of Torah min hashamayim. You can find the essay, The Jewish Haiku, by David Carasso, which is also a good intro to what haiku might or might not be, here.

Richard Wright, famous for other reasons, wrote many haiku. He comes to mind when I think of people who like me were, inexplicably, drawn to writing haiku. He generally stuck to the spirit of haiku and the 5-7-5 rule we all learned in third grade. One example:

Burning out its time,
And timing its own burning,
One lonely candle.

In an article on Wright's haiku, Ty Hadman writes, "I clearly remember reading Nick Virgilio's haiku that won the Eminent Mention Award in Modern Haiku in 1978: Old rabbi / unrolling Torah scroll: / bitter cold. His haiku was a real eye-opener for me. How many haiku that reflect some aspect of the Jewish religion and culture have you read since then?" Like many pieces that focus on one element or one writer in the realm of haiku Hadman's column provides a great introduction to haiku.

Wikipedia entry on senryu says that "much modern haiku is more similar to senryu than traditional haiku." That essay posits that senryu focused on human foibles. It also quotes Paul H. Henry as suggesting that American senryu be replaced with limerick. So the distinction between haiku and senryu is not as simple as one commenter on Gil's post made it out to be.

I envisioned this post as being a broad explanation of my connection to Torah, poetry, and art. The words are not coming quite the way I wanted and I feel like the time is passing to respond to Gil's post. He works on conventional blog time, which means keep it moving, next, next, next. So, I'm late.

I like the idea of freedom requiring parameters. The true meaning of freedom is something write about often. And yet, it is not in order to set a moshol into play that I write haiku. I write organically, as regular readers of this blog know and appreciate. It saddens me that people don't appreciate poetry. You don't have to like mine. But you should like someone's poems. And you should write your own - it's exercise for the soul.

I've written here myriad of times about the importance of poetry and how Torah and Tefilah is poetry. Last Tisha B'Av I was surprised when a prominent speaker on Kinot was flummoxed as to why in one kinah Moshe is referred to as Avigdor. I don't understand how such a bright person could miss that Avigdor was used due to the poetic form of the poem. Another prominent speaker once cited and mocked an Amichai poem about Yerushalayim in a talk. Sigh.

This post is coming to a close. I referred to some of Gil's post - not all, and some of the comments - not all. I want to thank Gil for being kind in writing about my book. I am grateful to you Gil. I am also grateful to the many other people who have appreciated the book and and have made clear that they liked the book and the blog that spawned it.

I am not, nor have I ever been Shakespeare. The greatest haiku writer ever, "the Shakespeare of haiku," as it were, would be Basho. I want to thank Pesach for his comments on Gil's post,which did not come out of a vacuum.

good night and G-d bless
the non-Shakespearian writes
for now, life goes on


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Go, ahead, hi-jack me! Love this post--love the title, love the poetry, just love it all. Exactly what was needed right now. Todah, RN.

April 17, 2011 at 6:32 AM  
Blogger rabbi neil fleischmann said...

So glad you appreciated this and let me know so. There's a lot of my insides inside here.

April 17, 2011 at 8:42 AM  

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