an empty boat
— Michelle Tennison, Michelle Tennison 32 (2015)
The power of haiku, like much poetry, often lies in its power to strike us with the sensation that there is meaning that lies beyond the words, and that the poem warrants work on the readers behalf — the reader, then, becoming an “accomplice” (to use Cortázar’s term). When the reader is active and becomes an accomplice to the poem, that is to say “activates” the poem, we are entering the terrain of the spiritual, philosophical, or existential — we are “entering” the poem, so to speak, and entering the position of the poet-creator. At their best, the haiku that occupy this Zen-like territory allow us to become the poet who has lost herself, or himself, and thus we become this absence, or interpenetration of subject and object—of poem and life. I happily confess that I don’t know exactly what this poem is saying. I hear the whale song and I am on the boat, and upon hearing the whale song I become the whale, and on becoming the whale I leave the boat, and I leave the boat empty.
But what if the whale is the empty boat? And, if so, why is it “empty”?
Upon considering these alternatives, the Pavlovian response kicks in: But what about those unwritten (yet endlessly discussed) “rules” about avoiding metaphor in haiku? And while I generally agree that clichéd metaphors are a waste of time and, more often than not, metaphors of any kind have a tendency to jar in haiku, that is because we are, understandingly, on the guard for something inauthentic. But when experience is metaphorical there is nothing more inauthentic than not giving into metaphorical thought and expression. And so, while I will continue to become the poem, and become the whale, and become the empty boat (or, better yet, to become “an-empty-boat-of-whale-song-me”), the meaning of the poem — if we can truly speak of “meaning” — will nevertheless continue to be the following:
an empty boat