November 29, 2011
The weather wavers,
but Time, thinking in circles,
has no misgivings.
This haiku is in honor of Mary Douglas and her book Thinking in Circles: An Essay on Ring Composition (Yale University Press, 2007) which was the inspiration for the structure of this haiku series. Ring composition is suggestive of a cosmology of eternal return – where there is no true ending but regeneration and renewal – and its classic structure echoes the course of the seasons embodied in these haiku. The structure of ayearincircles in this case is the message.
Many classic writings have utilized ring composition, including The Iliad and The Odyssey, The Aeneid, the Garden of Eden story and the Akedah in Genesis as well as the book of Numbers, Rumi’s Mathnawi and James Joyce’s inscrutable Finnegan’s Wake.
Douglas in her book lists seven conventions of ring composition:
1. A prologue. The early haiku from January talk about beginning, creation, stepping out into new territory, expanding the senses.
2. Split into halves. Halfway through the year, the world begins its retreat back to its beginnings.
3. Parallel structure. The classic ring composition matches the natural arc or parabola of the seasons with the pinnacle at the end of June and each month corresponding across with the month across the parabola: June-July, May-August, April-September, March-October, February-November, and January-December.
4. Indicators to mark individual sections. Each month is a kind of ring in itself in the structure I have chosen and the last day connects back to the first. There are certain images or themes used as indicators at the beginnings and ends of each month: January (beginnings); February (green man); March (traditional lion-lamb); April (danger); May (color); June (ouroboros); July (shadows); August (color/visibility); September (cat); October (autumn leaves); November (time); December (beginnings).
5. The mid-turn. The mid-turn for my haiku is at midsummer and is a small ring in itself beginning with June 20 and ending on June 30 and marked by a garter snake as the ouroboros. Many of the themes introduced in the prologue are repeated here.
6. Rings within rings. Each of the months create their own ring as well as the mid-turn ring mentioned above.
7. Closure or latch. The ending of the year (still to come) should correspond to the beginning and become a latch to complete and close the ring that has been created, both verbally and thematically.
Ring composition, above all, is a form of play and is meant to give pleasure to writer and reader, to anyone who hops into the ring. After all, that is what life should be too: play in its purest sense.