Panopticon – five haiku

haikuCan haiku be political? I don’t see why not. Haiku purists may cringe at the thought of tying the eternal, ‘zen’-like form to the fleeting nature of politics; to a certain extent, I can understand their fears. I suppose it depends on how we define the ‘political’. There are plenty of ‘political’ haiku on the internet. Some are ‘found’ haiku, gleaned for example from sentences published in the New York Times. Others refer to particular politicians, policies or events, limiting their scope before even starting, yet purposely so. Haiku that explore the ‘political’ in a more universal, collective human sense are more difficult to find. There are some good examples here, here, and here. One of my favourite political haikus in this wider sense is by Mario Benedetti: Qué linda época / aquella en que decíamos / revolución (free translation into English: Those were the days / when we would go around saying / revolution). There are many more haiku (over 200) by Benedetti here (in Spanish) – of course, it’s not always easy to determine which haiku can be identified as ‘political’, which as ‘philosophical’, and which as something in between. If I ever publish the ‘political’ haiku I’ve been writing intermittently over the past few years, I probably wouldn’t call them ‘political’; I’ve long been at pains to find the right description for them. ‘Social’ haiku may be closer, but is somewhat more limiting. ‘Activist’ haiku sounds pretentious. ‘Human’ haiku, much too broad – how can a haiku not be human? The love haiku, nature haiku, and office haiku have no problems of identification, despite the occasional overlaps; the other collection will have to remain nameless, at least for now. (Any suggestions?)

Following on from last week’s ‘virtual’ passport in solidarity with Edward Snowden, and the hilariously poignant extract from Charlie Chaplin’s 1957 film A King in New York in which ten-year-old Michael warns of the monopoly of power, here’s a short haiku sequence I scribbled down this evening on the theme of nation-state surveillance.

“a new mode of obtaining
power of mind over mind,
in a quantity hitherto without example…
a mill for grinding rogues honest”
Jeremy Bentham on his design
of the first Panopticon prison, 1787

Thirty years early; the war
against it, too late


Government spying –
nothing to hide, but the fear
of being spied on


Total state control –
no bars, chains, locks are needed;
click here, press Enter

quomododeumFile Save. Close. Shut down.
To rest my eyes finally!
And those watching me.


You’ve stored my secrets.
Data-mined my fantasies.
Now watch me jack off

(images from geopolicraticus
and philosophyforchange
haiku graffiti via Kirsten Cliff)

7 thoughts

  1. I think of mine as Headline Haiku, since I only use words found in the bold-faced type in my daily paper. It gives more latitude to be anywhere from whimsical to political and beyond. I really enjoyed those you posted and will look for more. ~ On a side note, when Orwell first published his novel, he wanted to call it 1948. He saw it as much more just around the corner than his publisher.


  2. Follow up to the most recent comment (I’m kind of new at this) Philip Brent Harris — The Pen’s Might


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