Haiku Poetics: Hyperbole

Hyperbole. From the Greek: Hyper: over; bole, throw. A figure of speech intended to overthrow the mind of the complacent audience?

Exaggeration.

Surplus energy. I use the lazer toy to give Kitty Ceci a thrill. She chases the red dot down the hall and leaps up the wall to touch it and spins around to return to where we started. Play. “Hyper” kitty.

According to one of my favorite haiku books:  Hyperbole (and oxymoron) is important as haiku figure of speech. Touches the bored reader. Koji Kawamoto: the excessive emphasis through exaggeration or repetition (The Poetics of Japanese Verse 75). He mentions (79) the grammatical marker “mo”– “even”: even on a lengthly spring day, / there is more singing to be done — skylarks.

I studied Kawamoto for many months with a student years ago. It sunk in. Must reading for serious haiku-poets.

Today I quickly wrote:

even the hedge trimmed

within an inch of  its life

erupts in birdsong

The hyperbole is double: “even” and “within an inch of its life.” Is double exaggeration too much? I plead the interest of the idiom: “within an inch of”!

There’s also a cool tune here on the short “i” that I like.

Finally, if haiku is a form suited to disclosing hyperbolic play in ordinary life– as I believe it is — we can think along the lines of William Desmond’s hyperboles of being. In our time of nihilism and activist apocalyptic terror, haiku can help refresh our sense of primal goodness. Perhaps haiku models the agapeic other to acts of terror.

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Author: Tom D'Evelyn

Tom D'Evelyn is a private editor and writing tutor in Portland OR and, thanks to the web, across the US and in the UK. His blogs include poemswithoutborders.com He can be reached at tom.develyn@comcast.net. D'Evelyn has a PhD in Comparative Literature from UC Berkeley. Before retiring he held positions at The Christian Science Monitor, Harvard University Press, Boston University and Brown University. He ran a literary agency for ten years, publishing books by Leonard Nathan and Arthur Quinn, among others. Before moving to Portland OR he was managing editor at Single Island Press, Portsmouth NH. He blogs at http://tdevelyn.com and other sites.

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