Gabor Terebess: Haiku in the Luggage
Miller Williams gives in Patterns of Poetry, An Encyclopedia of Forms a precise description of the haiku: ’An unrhymed syllabic poem, derived from Japanese verse. Lines 1 and 3 have five syllables; line 2 has seven. Traditionally, there is the mention of a season of the year somewhere in the haiku, as a means of establishing the poem’s tone, though this may be only the slightest suggestion.’
The author then cites a haiku of his choosing, by Clement Long. It goes
Uncovered, you sleep.
Cars pass the house and I watch
Lights on the ceiling.
So much about the form, of which we couldn’t say more, except the alterations in the modern haiku, based on the traditional concept, but without the set number of syllables involved, because it doesn’t really matter whether we write a haiku in 17 or 15 syllables (especially in Western languages). There are pieces that consist of 4 lines, for example by Leonard Cohen, and we find a free choice of syllables in the poems.
Still, certain poems are called haiku. There’s a particular mode and state of mind in which a haiku is born. When does a short poem of more or less 3 lines become a haiku? Many poets and theorists have asked this question. We do not possess a straight answer, but I would like to venture into the unknown by way of Gabor Terebess’ haiku poems, recently published in the original Hungarian, also available in the English translation on the Internet.
Haiku in the Luggage is made up of four parts. The first is France, 1965-1969, then comes Japan, 1967, after that Australia, 1969-1970 (this one includes the Haibun Diary), and the book closes with Bali, 2004. The reader can immediately recognize the cosmopolitan character of the book, even more so when the reading begins. But what is traveling, and what does it represent if we look at it on a higher level?
There’s an essay, Kierkegaard in Sicily, written by a unique personality in Hungarian literature, Béla Hamvas. He writes: While at home, you get to know the world, but on the road, yourself; because at home the focus of attention is your own person, but while traveling, the world, and where you look, always remains unknown to you. One should travel as fire spreads, moving in all directions from the center, and like fire, consuming everything behind, – so when the journey’s over, there should remain nothing else but ashes and ruins. Instead of all this the human is consumed, and the world flourishes.
Actually, what happens in Gabor Terebess’ haiku is a similar experience, a kind of Magical Mystery Tour, leading from a zen monastery through revolutionary Paris on to the land of Australia, where there’s hardly any escape from the individualism of Western Society. After a long silence we arrive in Bali, this time more like tourists, but suddenly everything gets saturated with wisdom from the endless rain.
One after the other we find poems that transcend the mundane, or rather the mundane is transformed in the process of the metamorphosis of self. The author’s journey begins in the hidden, and it never becomes all so important to find out about particulars. Only the single moment counts, in which we see many things simultaneously, but with an open door to the unity of vision.
Terebess’ mode of writing is conversational, he likes to use slogens, then we see different meanings unfolding, loosening our grip on fixed allusions to names, as in this haiku:
3M’s – oh come on!
Marx, Mao and Marcuse,
teach one another.
Names of places and people are almost as important in the earliest poems as the mentioning of seasons in the traditional haiku. It seems that the world doesn’t yield itself easily to the traveller anymore, we are not in touch with the center either in the universe or in ourselves. So we have to start outside, explore what the world has to offer, then move on to another plane, to the individual arriving in the focal point of his questions.
The outward direction reverses in the Japanese pieces. The soul has found its master and mate. We’re not in the world of illusion any longer, this is hardcore reality:
master was the master of
masters. Didn’t speak.
Writing a haiku is the rectification of the moment. The desire of mending the seams of creation comes from a deep understanding of oneself. The poet, perhaps in one of his satori experiences, becomes aware of his not being fully alive in the world, as if there had been invisible barriers between him and reality.
According to the teachings of G.I. Gurdjieff Man is a machine, a toy of external influences from the universe. He is not, because he doesn’t know himself, he’s not what he can and should be. He can decide nothing about the future, because he’s one person today, another tomorrow. Only in total awakening does he become human. This level is attained by remembering oneself. In a state of higher consciousness Man is enabled to choose the influence he wants to live under.
We find the same concept in Terebess’ haiku poems. Each piece is a story, a narration of moments caught in the process of things happening, time. The author remembers and re-lives his experiences, puts them into a perfectly condensed narrative. Then suddenly one feels as if being part of the writing of some haiku-novel which has as many versions as the number of its readers.
D.H. Lawrence writes the following about the novel: Turn truly, honourably to the novel, and see wherein you are man alive . . . at its best the novel, and the novel supremely, can help you. It can help you not to be a dead man in life. If we take into consideration the active, creative imagination of the recipient, we can see how every work of serious art heralds resurrection. The writer is alive in the process of creating, the reader in the act of reading.
The third part of the book is about the Australian stay of the author in 1969-70. Emigration must have been a queer choice in the eyes of his friends. But a diary fragment interspersed with poems, a haibun from the time of leaving France for Australia is a witness of the author’s state of mind before departure, proving the clarity of his spiritual aim. For the poet the question is not to be or not to be, but how to be. One answer is liberation:
Break out from all bonds
before you become
torn apart by them.
Where one lives is not important anymore. It could be Australia, Europe, Africa, America or Asia. What we call condition humane holds true everywhere on our planet, therefore it causes no difficulty to finally move back home. The poems don’t tell us what happened between 1970 and 2004. Nearly thirty-five years pass before we see the author on the road again, as a tourist in Bali. It’s constantly raining there, but the inner ears are open to the sounds of the animal world. Many pieces from this last cycle are about birds, dogs or frogs. Where people are mentioned they seem to be in the background, they’re observed while doing rituals, but no familiar face would emerge from the crowd. Still, there’s a sense of profound contentment in the acceptance of distance, because it has led to the unification of character. We need perspective to put our lives’ puzzle together.
Redemption poetry, like Gabor Terebess’ Haiku in the Luggage, grows on us. The poet calls us through his experience to take part in the mundane, and we learn from him how to integrate and elevate it. The sacred can be found in the details, in any movement we make, but most of all it is a state of mind:
Running in the rain
to the swimming-pool.
The last word, saved, can be associated with many images. But the greatest gift of this poem and of the whole book is the joy of being human transmitted to us. The haiku is a miracle. We need only to listen.
Haiku a poggászban, artORIENT, Budapest, 2005.