I enjoyed recycling Moby-Dick chapters into “haiku” so much that I’ve decided to do the same to chapters from another American bible… The King James Version of the Bible. Though I was prepared to modify my technique for the new text, I’ve found myself falling “comfortably” into essentially the same method I used for Moby-Dick: read a chapter for overall impression; read the chapter again, making note of compelling words, images, concepts, etc. that could generate high levels of potential energy when juxtaposed in a new context together; read the chapter again and again, contemplating the relative merits of several different combinations that could result from it; and finally, after agonizing over it for several days, choose one.
To give you an idea of the kind of choices I’m often presented with near the end of this process, I’ll give you the two final options I narrowed it down to for The Gospel According to St. Luke, Chapter 7:
the one owed five hundred pence
the other fifty
I had initially decided upon the first option because it highlights the two figures whose lives are presented as being most parallel in Luke, and it rather cheekily, but not disrespectfully, links them with two figures from one of Jesus’ own parables from the same chapter. However, I realized that if I were to go with this first option, I would be violating a personal rule (well, not entirely personal, as it is a valued in traditional haiku as well) that I try to create a work of maximal meaningful suggestiveness with as minimal wording as possible… with the most direct language possible. This, incidentally, has become a more powerful directive for me now than when I was working with Moby-Dick. The first option only presents one potential meaning to a reader unfamiliar with the original narrative. It presents two or three additional potential meanings for a reader familiar with the original. However, the second option can elicit at least four potential interpretations without any knowledge of the original being required (while likewise multiplying potential for the reader familiar with the source). The second is less bound by narrative causalities, and therefore has a richer texture. Though I’m sure some would prefer the first, I feel the second is not quite as “flat.” With Moby-Dick, I allowed narrative causality to guide me more, but I’m being tugged in the other direction by Luke.