Ford's essay investigates the post–World War II haiku boom in the United States with particular attention to how haiku has served different projects of national identity. These diverse projects share an inclination to respond in haiku to the United States' troubled history of colonization and conquest, associating Native America and Japan in a number of ways and generating poems that address the conquest of the Americas with surprising consistency. Japanese Americans writing from internment camps during World War II (Violet Matsuda de Cristoforo) associated their own removal and oppression with that of Native Americans. Anglo-American poets sometimes turned to haiku (after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the wars with Korea and Vietnam) to escape an identity they scorned: white, American, middle-class. Haiku's famed impersonality promised a release not merely from Western egocentrism but from Western identity—and the guilt associated with that identity. To these poets (Ordway Southard, Foster and Rhoda Jewell, Jack Kerouak, Diane Di Prima, Gary Snyder) haiku both thematized and formalized transience and was thus precisely the poetic form for explaining conquest and elegizing the Vanishing American, who, in the national imaginary, vanished into haiku's province: nature. And yet Native American poets (Gerald Vizenor, William Oandasan) have also written haiku for precisely the opposite reason: for resistance and survival. What we discover in the varied uses of haiku among Japanese, Anglo-, and Native Americans is its surprising utility as a form, supposed to suppress self-identification, for competing projects of American national identity.
Karen Jackson Ford; Marking Time in Native America: Haiku, Elegy, Survival. American Literature 1 June 2009; 81 (2): 333–359. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00029831-2009-005
Download citation file: