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Haiku Form in Anna Poplawska ' s " so many headstones "

so many headstones:
so many more blades
of grass

Anna Poplawska

In her article "Zen and the Art of Haiku", Anna Poplawska calls haiku "an expression of egolessness in which the poet turns outward to fully experience and capture the essence of being in a particular moment at a particular place".

However, the simple description of something ordinary can also go beyond capturing that particular place and moment and allow an object or event to transcend itself and represent something universal. Poplawska's "so many headstones" haiku seems to capture a thought which might pass through our minds while standing in a graveyard. There are so many headstones, but also there are so many more blades of grass. A contrast is drawn between the dead and the living. In twelve syllables, nine words, or three lines, Poplawska conveys a message of hope and comfort for those who might be grieving; yes, some have died and left us but look how many live and grow around us.

Like most contemporary English haiku, this piece stands in contrast to William Wordsworth's statement "Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility." (Preface to Lyrical Ballads, 1798) Poplawska's poem gives a more objective message, following ideals of the early 20th century imagists; this piece intensifies objective reality and largely avoids the poet's subjective observations. It follows haiku master Matsuo Basho's advice, "you must leave your subjective preoccupation with yourself, otherwise you impose yourself on the object, and do not learn."

Structurally, this piece does not follow the traditional haiku syllable count for each line. But as Poplawska points out in her article, shorter lines are typical of haiku written in English because an economy of images is required. English can often use fewer words to convey an idea than is possible in other languages, and strict adherence to the traditional syllable count might introduce too many images into the simple haiku format.

The colon after the first line could possibly be viewed as a form of the Japanese kireji, a category of words which are a requirement in traditional haiku. There is no equivalent of kireji in English, but may be represented by punctuation like a dash or ellipsis. The kireji may separate two contrasting ideas or simply provide a more finalized ending to a single line. At the end of the final phrase the kireji is intended to create a circular pattern, drawing the reader back to the beginning. In English the colon can be used to separate contrasting ideas, the part after the colon sometimes illuminating the part before. So Poplawska's use of the colon seems an appropriate equivalent to the kireji, even if it isn't in wide use among English poets.

This haiku is very relevant to me right now because I will be attending a funeral tomorrow. I can imagine standing in the graveyard and realizing that although death is all around me there is so much more life. I don't know if I will be able to share the wisdom of this poem with anyone, I don't want to sound trivial or insensitive. But I know the thought behind this poem will comfort me.

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