Haiku for discussion:
pig and i spring rain — Marlene Mountain, Frogpond 2:3-4 (1979)
Danny Blackwell wonders if the personal is political:
What a great haiku. It is hard not to feel compassion for the players in the scene. Sadly, it is also hard for me not to think about the pig’s destiny, which is likely one of suffering for the benefit of humans. For the most part pigs are not companions, like dogs or cats. Pigs are, more often than not, destined to be food. In fact, unless we work on a farm or in the countryside, we rarely see a living pig. Like many great haiku it is what isn’t said — what is implicit — that really resonates with us. The pig in this haiku will probably end up on someone’s plate, and one has to reflect on what that means. Upon reading this poem by Marlene Mountain I cannot help but recall an interview that I read not long ago, and which colours my reactions. While not a vegan myself, I recently stumbled across a pamphlet of resistance against speciesism, and I was particularly captivated by the opening interview with an individual named Rob, who served in the military during Desert Storm:
“I was out of the military for some time already, and I was struggling with PTSD (…) you see, when I was in the military I saw the most horrible and ugliest things, I saw innocent people die, and I saw these videos of animals, and noticed there was no difference in how humans and animals die, there was no difference in the bloodshed, the fight for life, and their subsequent death.
My eyes were wide open, and saw that we were the actual terrorists, we were the ones creating chaos and murdering innocent people for their resources, we had no right — as we have no right to take the lives of innocent animals — to invade or enter into those countries. Meanwhile, here at home, we people of color were being terrorized for years by the police. The lies we’ve been told about people in other countries, the environmental destruction humanity takes part in, the unnecessary killing of animals for food, imprisonment in zoos and aquariums, torture and murder in test labs. Why do these things resonate so much with me? Because as a black man, we also suffered these injustices and were marginalized in much the same way animals are . . .”
After reading this interview, I wonder how relevant the following comments by Marlene Mountain are:
“We have been ‘taught’ alienation and it seems imperative now that we seek that which affirms the common ground of all organisms.”
I was hesitant at first to include parts of the interview from the vegan pamphlet, as I don’t wish to misuse this space for political commentary, however, after reading up on Marlene Mountain, I feel that it touches on some issues which the poet has dealt with in her work, and that it gave me a springboard from which to see the poem in a winder context.
(It may also be worth bearing in mind that a great many of the haiku poets who defined the genre were Buddhists, and went to great lengths to not harm other living beings, and this, in turn, greatly influenced haiku culture. Though Marlene Mountain may have issues with such a Nippon-centric take on haiku, as in the essay they don’t shoot horses do they? she states: “those who champion the Japanese Spirit and its complex paraphernalia for North Americans are under considerable delusion.”)
As regards the topic of war, Marlene Mountain also has various haiku that tackle the topic explicitly. Take, for example, the following one-line haiku:
a live update the men's war brushes off more 'collateral damage'Is not the death of a pig for human consumption another example of ‘collateral damage’? In the aforementioned essay the poet is critical of anthropocentrism and authoritarianism, and at one point asks: “Must we continue to be subjected to hierarchical concepts which separate us from all other organisms?”
The comments I selected from the pamphlet, which touch on a variety of political topics, may shed little light on the poem in a strictly textual sense. And, if I’m honest, when I read the haiku I see little more than the image of a person and a pig, sharing in the spring rain. And it moves me. It has a restrained pathos that is representative of the best of haiku. But when I stop and think about the haiku — that is to say, not simply participate in the haiku moment — I cannot help but wonder about my own conduct and how political my personal decisions are.
One thing I know for sure: the spring rain falls on pig and person alike.