Haiku 22.10.16

Moss-covered threshold
gate rusted shut the way through
is not to go there

As literary, even the smallest text has a unity based on a fold or turn. But before that level of analysis, there’s the forward motion by extending an aspect of a double. Hamill in his introduction to Lu Chi’s Wen Fu: The Art of Writing (Milkweed) describes the literary form of this third century Chinese classic  (Lu Chi was executed for treason in 300 CE) as follows:

“Lu Chi’s fu is that of the p’ien wen or ‘double harness’ style; the poem depends upon a kind of parallelism, often moving two ways simultaneously through the deliberate use of ambiguity: ‘Things move into shadows and vanish; memory returns in an echo.'”

In this haiku the first line leads us into a space; the first image of the next line stops the motion; the turn of the poem begins with the concept “the way through” which is followed by a surprising “not” — the way is not to go . . . It’s as if the wanderer remembered the phrase “not to go there”; it is indeed a vernacular turn at this moment, as in “don’t go there.”

“Metaxyturn” names the moment when the given spaces close in on themselves — an aporia — and then suddenly there’s a “way through” as if it opened up because of the aporia. Having accepted the finality of the closure, the opening comes from the other side. I think the sudden rhythm of the third line communicates that sudden opening, even though it’s just an acknowledgement of an alternative route. By ‘alternative’ I mean I suppose utterly other!

The lack of punctuation may initially be a problem for some readers but on rereading, the lack allows the reader to “perform” the metaxyturn in their own breathing. In this way I like to think that the poem has a “form” that depends on a happening, the shaping movement of the metaxy as contingency gives way to the im/possibility of grace.

Or, as Lu Chi says, whatever is given passes away and “memory returns in an echo.”


Author: Tom D'Evelyn

Tom D'Evelyn is a private editor and writing tutor in Cranston RI and, thanks to the web, across the US and in the UK. 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.

One thought on “Haiku 22.10.16”

  1. Usually I would prefer punctuation Tom, as it serves a purpose, but I agree that it is better omitted here, that the absence serves another purpose
    I particularly enjoyed this haiku – right from the start with that arresting opening line.


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