by Alan Summers
My creation of the idea of Slip-Realism was both inspired by Elizabeth Hazen’s haiku collection, and also my time as a surveillance consultant, where small details, when noticed, might mean a life-or-death situation. In Elizabeth Hazen’s situation, she had lost almost all of her sight, making it more important to notice everything else:
Elizabeth wrote: 1
“Peripheral perceptions have long absorbed my attention. And haiku of the hearing still jump out at me in my walks.”
Her 2001 collection, Back Roads With a White Cane (Saki Press), was the joint winner of the Virgil Hutton Haiku Memorial Award Chapbook Contest for 2001-2002. Read the book here (downloads as a pdf, 3.87MB).
Elizabeth lost her sight for three years. We often rely too much on our sight, first and foremost, and coming after are sound, taste, smell, and touch – yet they equally inform us.
In the introduction to her book Elizabeth says of becoming blind:
“…the distinction between my other four senses blurred, and my awareness of place and of the present moment sharpened”.
Once Elizabeth regained enough of her sight, to continue painting and writing, albeit it with mechanical aids, she says something that I find to be extremely revealing:
“On regaining my sight I found that only the simplicity of haiku could connect all the layers of perception I had experienced, without bogging down in a confusion of emotions.”
After a trauma what happens once we are safe, or we’ve been rescued? How can we debrief ourselves, and not just provide a statement for the police, if a crime has been committed? There is our destination into the trauma, and another one out of that situation, and it can be ongoing as we go through a process of recovery.
Jim Kacian, a leading American haiku poet, caught one of the meanings of what I meant by Slip-Realism as: 2
Haiku is replete with the quotidian — it is the everyday that is the stuff of our poetry. And yet, what makes it of interest is our perception of it as not ordinary, as, in fact, uncanny. Slip-realism aims to explicate this daily miracle.
And Jim Kacian quotes me:
Slip-Realism — unearthing the anonymous; avoiding the straightforward; parallel narratives in our day and night lives: new ways of perceiving the real (after Nouveau réalisme).
It’s an approach to focusing on subjects often on the periphery of our vision. It’s also incorporating, where possible, sound as essence; aural landscape; or visual marker, because we are surrounded by soundscape. Think of yourself as freshly kidnapped, hood over your head, perhaps in the trunk of a car, and you need sound markers to gauge the journey.
Slip-Realism is about the ‘side’ of things that are ‘on the edge’ and outside our perceived day-to-day mainstream public life. It’s a kind of ‘poetry of witness’ or ‘poetry as witness’ to the smallnesses of daily quirkiness. We often have odd and sometimes tiny incidents, and their edginess of unexpected and suddenly ‘re-noticed’ circumstances bump against us for a moment.
Enter the Slip-Realism Perception Challenge
If you were thrown into the trunk of a car, blindfolded, and had to endure a long mystery journey, with no resolved knowledge of the final destination, and how to work your way back home if you managed to escape, what potent core observations would you record?
What could you pull out using haiku techniques that included non-visual images, that you might want to start writing as a way to escape.
What haiku could you create knowing you have restricted movement, and can only snatch moments in the car ride? Could you leave a paper trail of sound or smell markers by haiku, instead of our usual engrained visible landmarks? Can you create a map of sound, touch, and smell?
1: Think of yourself as freshly kidnapped, hood put over your head, placed perhaps in the trunk of a car, and you only have sound markers to gauge the process and direction of the journey.
2: What smells, and other non-visual physical sensations are you aware of in the trunk of the car, or if you are tied up and blindfolded in the back seat?
3: Think back to what would be normal and familiar touch, smell, and sound markers in your daily life, and compare them to what you might hear or sense elsewhere in surroundings and circumstances unfamiliar to you – for example, think back to when you have made a visit to somewhere new; or where something new and unfamiliar caught your ear even in your frequently visited places; that registered in the recess of your memory.
4: What little mannerisms or quirks do you see with your tradesmen; your bin-men/trash collectors; postmen or parcel delivery men, and their vehicles; or someone walking by; or a driver’s behaviour in his/her own backyard; or a driver obviously not familiar to the neighbour where you live, perhaps parked up, or wandering around?
5: Make a list of everything non-visual; make a parallel list of everything purely visual. You now have two columns as a source of material for your haiku (or tanka).
6: Compare, update, and maintain your two columns of both non-visual and visual imagery so that you have a constantly regular resource for your new haiku draft poems.
To see the haiku I selected for The Haiku Foundation’s Per Diem feature on Slip-Realism, please go here.
The examples below also touch on either non-visual markers in our lives, or the periphery of our daily lives.
down side streets –
gulls turning the sky
in and out
Alan Summers 3
lullaby of rain
another pinch of saffron
in the pumpkin soup
Alan Summers 4
hard frost –
of a song thrush
Alan Summers 5
juniper the tether end of larksong
Alan Summers 6
1 Snail mail correspondence with the author, October 2013.
2 From the introduction to THF Per Diem, January 2014.
3 Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years (W W Norton & Company, 2013, New York).
4 Editors’ Choices, The Heron’s Nest (14:4, December 2012, USA).
5 Muttering Thunder (Vol. 1, 2014).
6 Poetry & Place Anthology issue 1, eds Ashley Capes and Brooke Linford (Close-Up Books, 2016, Australia).
Editor’s note: This is the first time this article and exercise has been made public and appears here with the kind permission of the author.
Alan Summers, a Japan Times award winning writer, featured on Europe meets Japan – Alan’s Haiku Journey with Japanese Television NHK World. He is the author of the forthcoming Writing Poetry: the haiku way, and the new president of the United Haiku and Tanka Society. He is currently enjoying his first full year in the commuter town of Chippenham in England.
See Alan’s blog for updates over 2017.