in the rocks
white butterflies unbreathable atmosphere
another story about you
in the newspaper
(NaHaiWriMo prompt: Black and white)
Moving on: NaHaiWriMo prompt for April 26th:
Playgrounds and playground equipment
See this post for an explanation of what this is.
See the NaHaiWriMo website.
See the NaHaiWriMo Facebook page, and contribute haiku there if you want. (It doesn’t have to have anything to do with this prompt. It’s just a suggestion.)
the patch of window
I forgot to wash
(NaHaiWriMo prompt: Cleaning)
Moving along: NaHaiWriMo prompt for April 5th
See this post for an explanation of what this is.
See the NaHaiWriMo website.
See the NaHaiWriMo Facebook page, and contribute haiku there if you want. (It doesn’t have to have anything to do with this prompt. It’s just a suggestion.)
no plum blossom viewing
(thanks to Gabi Greve for inspiring this haiku)
radiation leak moonlight on the fuel rods
before and after
earthquake news —
beginning to learn
Everyone have a nice Valentine’s Day? Looking forward to warmer weather? (Or cooler, if you live in the Southern Hemisphere?) Great. Glad to hear it.
Okay, got the chitchat out of the way. No time. Must be fast. Short. Abbreviated. Abridged. Yes, that’s it. This is the Reader’s Digest Condensed Books of haiku columns. Don’t let that put you off, though. It’s just my boring words that are abridged, not the haiku.
Haiku (Etc.) of the Week
(Poems I found and liked the last couple of weeks.)
I am giving pride of place this week to Amy Claire Rose Smith, the 13-year-old winner of the youth haiku contest at The Secret Lives of Poets. This haiku is not just “good for a thirteen-year-old.” I would be proud of having written it. Amy is the co-proprietor of The Spider Tribe Blog and Skimming the Water along with her mother, Claire Everett, also a fine haiku and tanka poet (I mean, she’s okay for a grownup, you know?) who has been featured in this space previously.
listeningto the brook’s riddlesa moorhen and I.– Amy Claire Rose Smith
a full breath,
a full moon
From Crows & Daisies:
– Polona Oblak
From Via Negativa:
moon in eclipse
I remember every place
I’ve seen that ember
– Dave Bonta
(The first line links to a spectacular photo by Dave, take a look.)
From Morden Haiku:
a hint of spring
– Matt Morden
From scented dust:
still winter -
a heavy book about
– Johannes S.H. Bjerg
(Johannes has also been writing a lengthy series of haiku about penguins that are delighting my son and me. A few of them are at his blog, linked above, and he’s also been tweeting a lot of them (@jshb32). Both in English and in Danish, because I asked nicely. Thanks, Johannes.)
the auld fushwife
sits steekin -
her siller needle dertin.the old fishwife
sits sewing -
her silver needle darting.– John McDonald
From Yay words! :
late winter cold
a honey drop
– Aubrie Cox
From The Haiku Diary:
Ripeness Is All
In the produce section:
A very pregnant woman,
smelling a grapefruit.
From a handful of stones:
Joyfulness Keeps Pushing Through
T. S. Eliot
and the Old Testament
But I can’t help it
– Carl-Henrik Björck
in the dawn light she looks like
my first love
– Bill Kenney
have you thought
of your effect on us?
full moon.– Stella Pierides.
a bit of paradefrom the sparrow …first flakes, last snow.– Ricky Barnes
まどろむの活用形に春の雪 小川楓子madoromu no katsuyôkei ni haru no yuki.
spring snow.– Fuko Ogawa, translated by Fay Aoyagi
“Class Warfare in Wisconsin: 10 Things You Should Know” (Tikkun Daily)a long day…
to the under belly of
a snail shaped moon.– Robert D. Wilson
(Normally I try to keep this blog a politics-free zone, but can I help it if Robert wrote a great tanka and Haiku News connected it to a headline about the protests in my state against the governor’s budget bill? I’m all for art for art’s sake, but if art happens to intersect with politics in an artistically pleasing way, I’m all for that too.)
The white gold moon: A Japanese haiku experience
Or how a hole in the sky turned into a pair of wings in my heart
Mutsumi and I did meet over spare egg sandwiches and coconut muffins at the 411 Seniors Centre Cafeteria. … I laid the printed sheets out on the table, two pages of ten haiku. I had noticed her wince as she read them and then, she pushed the pages away.
… She pointed to one of them and asked me, or to my mind, accused me, “Where is your heart?”
The haiku she had her forefinger on is this:
hole in dark sky?
the white moon
… “When you wrote this how did you feel?”
“Well, in the dark night sky on a full moon, I looked up and there was the moon like a white hole in the sky.”
“Seeing a hole although it was bright sort of scared me but it also delighted me because I realized it is but the moon.”
“That’s why, it can’t be a haiku. It cannot stop there. It has to stop right here,” she tapped her chest with her hand and to mine, finally a gesture which uplifted me, “in the heart, your heart.”
We plumbed the idea deeper. She focused on my delight to see the moon. What did I want to do about it? And how would I have wanted to reach the moon. I said the only I could would be “to fly”. She began to smile and latched on to the image, to the idea of flying. She asked how I would have wanted to fly. And I said with wings, of course.
“But you can’t have wings. Still you can fly with your thoughts, your thoughts of happiness,” she said. “Think of where these come from,” she urged me on.
“In my heart, of course!”
“There you are! There is your haiku!”
She took the piece of paper from my hand and began writing in Japanese, translating the characters into this:
gin-iro* tsuki no hikari*
kurai yoru watashi no kokoro
I asked what each word meant and the haiku flowed:
white gold moon
on a dark night in my heart
a pair of wings
– Alegria Imperial
Dead Tree News: Journaled
Frogpond, the venerable journal of the Haiku Society of America, edited by George Swede, came in the mail last week. First I clasped it to my heart and carried it around with me everywhere for a few days. Then I started making the difficult decisions about which tiny portion of the contents I could share with you guys. Here’s what I came up with:
First of all, I’ll mention right off the bat that there was an essay by Randy Brooks called “Where Do Haiku Come From?” that I am going to have to write a separate post about because I can’t do it justice here. So remind me about that if I haven’t come through in, say, a couple of months.
There were also a couple of interesting and related essays by Ruth Yarrow and David Grayson about bringing current events and economic realities into the writing of haiku. Ruth wrote about the recent/current financial crisis and David about homelessness. Both discussed the importance of not neglecting this aspect of our reality when we look for haiku material; David also discussed how to avoid the pitfalls of sentimentality and cliche when dealing with topics that start out with such strong emotional associations. I tend to think that the reality of the urban environment and the modern political and economic climate are seriously neglected in haiku (and I am as guilty as anyone else of neglecting them), so I was happy to see these essays here.
Second of all, here are the titles of some haibun you might want to take a look at if a copy of Frogpond falls into your path (which it will do if you join the Haiku Society of America, hint hint):
Little Changes, by Peter Newton; The First Cold Nights, by Theresa Williams; Not Amused, by Ray Rasmussen; Marry Me, by Genie Nakano; Gail, by Lynn Edge; This Strange Summer, by Aurora Antonovic; Home, by John Stevenson; Looking Back, by Roberta Beary; Koln, by David Grayson.
And lastly … the haiku. Those that particularly struck me for whatever reason:
warmth from within
— Johnette Downing
high beams visit
a small bedroom
my thin cotton life
— Dan Schwerin
coffee house babble
among all the voices
— Robert Moyer
my knotty life
— Charlotte DiGregorio
if only she had been buried wild crimson cyclamen
— Clare McCotter
wrong from every angle
— Marsh Muirhead
morning obituaries …
there i am
between the lines
— Don Korobkin
full moon —
all night the howling
— John Soules
full of faces
— Sheila Windsor
………….lets me be who I am
— Francine Banwarth
Done! Okay, for me, that really wasn’t bad.
Just wanted to say that I will probably not have another Haikuverse update for at least 3 weeks, possibly 4, since in March I will be contending vigorously with midterms, family visits, a new job, and oh, yeah, this haijinx column gig. (Send me news!) I’ll miss droning endlessly on at you guys but at least this will give you a chance to catch up with all the old columns.
8 winter shadows the color of winter hats
9 spinning in circles trying to reason with the galaxy
10 cold archive room Abe Lincoln’s ordinary horse
11 chocolate sauce dipping a toe in a sun-warmed puddle
12 lark silver bullet entering my airspace
13 clouds of the world checking their immigration status
14 oil slick nebula in embryo
I seem to be doing very weird things with these. I guess that’s kind of the point of this endeavor. Well, I kind of see it as the point. Experimenting, risking seeming stupid or incompetent in hopes that you’ll occasionally hit upon something interesting or worthwhile. I’ve had to force myself to be very brave and non-self-censoring this month. I keep imagining people thinking to themselves, “God, she’s gone off the deep end, hasn’t she?” Wandering away shaking their heads. Wondering if they really want to come back.
It’s interesting, though, because whenever I start to feel guilty about inflicting some trite gobbledygook on you people, it will turn out that people actually like the stuff I thought was trite gobbledygook. I mean, people with good taste, better taste than I have. I’m starting to wonder if I actually have the slightest idea what I’m doing here … Stop nodding your heads so vigorously.
Halfway through. I guess I’ll make it.
the cold outside
the robot inside
cloud drift —
a robot wonders
where it’s going
an afternoon spent
Hello fellow inhabitants of the Haikuverse,
There was so much to explore in the Haikuverse this week that I feel a little overwhelmed by it all. If I’m ever going to get through the list I’ve got in front of me I will have to be brief and efficient, possibly even telegraphic. So … here goes.
First of all, congratulations to Andrew Phillips, of Pied Hill Prawns, and his wife on the recent birth of a baby boy. Andrew wrote a lovely poem, Sacred Space in the Suburbs, with haiku-like stanzas, about the home birth — I highly recommend it. Here’s an excerpt:
This is a room for women. I clamp
a hose to the tap, filling the pool
with warm waters.
– Andrew Phillips
Lots of haiku journals published new issues in the last week. I naturally feel compelled to start with Notes from the Gean, which contains my first published haiku (reposted in this space last week). (Yes, I am excited. Thanks for asking.) They also published one of my haibun. (Excited, again.) But there are so many other wonderful things in this issue that are not by me that I demand you go over there and take a look.
For instance: There are the amazing photo haiga of Aubrie Cox and Carmella Braniger. There are some stunning renku — I like “Scribing Lines” (The Bath Spa Railway Station Renku) in particular. And, of course, there are dozens and dozens of great haiku. I was especially excited to see this one by Lee Gurga, which was thoroughly dissected in a workshop I attended in Mineral Point:
an unspoken assumption tracks through the petals
– Lee Gurga
Heron’s Nest also published last week and is also full of wonderful haiku. Here are a couple that particularly struck me (and I just noticed they both mention the wind, what’s that about?):
in my beliefs
– Christopher Patchel
the leaves too
made of oak
– Joyce Clement
This issue also contains a lengthy and interesting commentary by Alice Frampton on the following amazing ku (winner of the Heron’s Nest Award), well worth reading if you’re interested in getting a better insight into how haiku are put together:
how it feels
to hold a rake
– Robert Epstein
A very exciting development last week was the publication of the first issue of Haijinx since 2002! Congratulations to the team who put this together. Because of a mouse-related incident that took place in my house this week, I was attracted to this haiku by the great Peggy Willis Lyles, who, sadly, died in September:
— peggy willis lyles
Yet another December publication: Haibun Today. They usually have a great selection of haibun, though I have to admit I have not had time to make my way through all the contents of this issue yet. Of those I’ve read, one that I really loved, especially because I am always thinking that there should be more short-story or fiction haibun, was Weight, Balance, and Escapement by Jeffrey Harpeng. This is wildly imaginative and may make your brain explode, so watch out.
I can’t believe I didn’t know about before about this seriously awesome site: Haiku News. They publish haiku based on news stories, along with links to the story in question. This sounds like a gimmick (well, I guess it is in a way) that might involve mediocre or silly haiku, but in fact the haiku are very high quality and the interaction between haiku and news story is thought-provoking. Like this one by Claire Everett, based on the headline “Hunger index shows one billion without enough food.”
but the wishbone
— Claire Everett
Troutswirl this week published an essential read for those interested in the history of English-language haiku: an essay about Anita Virgil and Robert Spiess, who were two of the most prominent and innovative haiku poets in this country in the sixties and seventies and whose haiku still seems original and exciting. Here’s Anita:
walking the snow crust
– Anita Virgil
and here’s Robert:
Muttering thunder . . .
the bottom of the river
scattered with clams
– Robert Spiess
I don’t know how I have happened not to write about John McDonald before, because his blog Zen Speug was one of the first I discovered when I first started writing haiku and I still love it devotedly. For one thing: Great haiku, often very Shiki-ish, with wonderful nature images. For another: Scots! John (who is a retired mason, which is another reason to love him) writes his haiku in both Scots and English, and Scots, in case you weren’t aware, is one of the best. languages. ever.
In fact someone called David Purves has written an essay about how Scots may be a better language for haiku than English (actually, I think lots and lots of languages are better for haiku than English, and I’m not even counting Japanese, which is one reason why I am so devoted to foreign-language haiku).
This was one of my favorites of John’s from this week:
aw yin flourish
all one blossom
– John McDonald
my husband with hot sake
he, too, must have
a dream he gave up
– Kazuko Nishimura
At Beachcombing For the Landlocked the other day, Mark Holloway posted the following tanka, which I took to immediately because it perfectly expresses my feelings about living in the, ahem, landlocked (but very lake-y) Midwest. (Note: I can’t get the formatting of this to work right here; the fourth line should be indented to begin about under the word “lake” from the line above.)
not the sea
– Mark Holloway
At Issa’s Untidy Hut Don Wentworth shares with us his review of a great used-book-store find he made this week (note to self: go to used book stores more often): an autographed copy of The Duckweed Way: Haiku of Issa, translated by Lucien Stryk. Stryk’s translations are highly minimalist and often (no pun intended, I swear) striking. For instance:
cruel, cruel, cruel.
– Issa, tr. Lucien Stryk
Over at Haiku Bandit Society there is always so very much to love. This week I watched a rengay in the process of composition — every day or two when I checked back a new verse had been added. It was like a magic trick. Here are the first couple of verses — go read the rest yourself.
I’ve had sake
only once or twice
but, as for dreams… / b
a walk on the moon
with Neil Armstrong / l’o
Recently I discovered a Japanese newspaper, The Mainichi Daily News, which publishes English-language haiku every day — go ahead, send yours in, they have a submission form and everything. I really like today’s entry, in fact:
fog thinning out–
more and more visible
the way to nowhere
– Marek Kozubek (Zywiec, Poland)
Check out this Japanese haiku blog by Hidenori Hiruta: AkitaHaiku. The author posts his haiku in both Japanese and English, accompanied by wonderful photographs. They’re grouped seasonally. Here’s an Autumn one that for obvious reasons I am very fond of:
hiding in dahlias
the blue sky
– Hidenori Hiruta
New Year’s Eve
a white rabbit falls
into my dream
New Year’s morning
standing before the mirror
it’s me, and yet …
– Chen-ou Liu
Okay … so why didn’t anyone ever tell me about zip haiku before? Geez. You people.
What are zip haiku, you ask? Well, they’re an invention of the amazing John Carley, probably best known for his great work with renku (check out Renku Reckoner). At some point around the turn of the millennium John got fed up with all the squabbling about what constitutes an English-language haiku and decided to invent his own form of haiku that would be unique to English and capitalize on its special properties. You can read his essay about this yourself, but basically he got all scientific about it and crunched numbers with translations and did a little rummaging around in the basement of linguistics and ended up with this 15-syllable poem, divided into two parts, that he called a zip haiku. (You must understand that I am seriously oversimplifying what John did, and I won’t be surprised if he writes and tells me I’ve got it all wrong.)
ANYWAY. Here’s an example, and I am going to go off and write some of these myself. Soon.
orange and tan
|tan orange and tan|
– John Carley
— Hugh O’Donnell
Few editions of the Haikuverse are complete for me without a French haiku by Vincent Hoarau, posted this week on Facebook. Please don’t ask me to translate.
tombent les flocons
et les poemes inacheves .
– Vincent Hoarau
I absolutely loved this highly minimalist haiku by Angie Werren, posted this week both on Twitter and on her blog feathers. I wrote Angie a long comment about it talking about all the ways I love it (you can see it if you go over there), which may seem over-the-top because it’s only four words long and how much can you say about four words? A lot, it turns out.
– Angie Werren
Bill Kenney of haiku-usa continues with his fine series of “Afters,” loose interpretations of classical Japanese haiku. This week: Basho and Issa on radishes. Really, there is nothing better. I could use a radish right now.
the chrysanthemums gone
– Basho (1644-1694)
the radish grower
pointing the way
with a radish
– Issa (1763-1827)
It’s that time again — the topics for the December Shiki Kukai have been announced. The deadline is December 18. The kigo is “Winter sky,” and the theme for the free format is “ring” (used as a noun). Get composing.
And without further ado, I am going to bed. It’s been an exhausting whirl around the Haikuverse … but what great company! See you all next week.
clouds trapped in ice
did you mean what you said
or the opposite?
Dear Fellow Travelers,
Some weeks the Haikuverse seems to stir up a lot of Deep Thoughts in me, but not this week. This week I was too busy for Thinking Deeply. (I can hear you sighing in relief. Stop that.)
So what have I got for you? Well, a lot of really great haiku (other people’s, natch), snatched out of the ether during moments stolen from homework, fiction writing, Thanksgiving dinner, and sleep. For some reason, most of them seem to relate to one of two themes: astronomical phenomena or snow.
(It’s snowing in a lot of places these days, apparently. So interesting, the sense you can get of world weather patterns by following the world’s daily haiku output.)
Anyway. To start off our journey … here are some of my favorite responses to a polite request that The Haiku Foundation’s Facebook page recently made of its followers: “Please share a haiku inspired by the onset of cold weather.” (They frequently make interesting requests like this. You should go over and oblige them occasionally. It’s nice to share.)
premières gelées blanches -
une envie soudaine
de carrot cake
…first white frosts -
…a sudden urge
for a carrot cake
– Vincent Hoarau
she pockets a large carrot
for later use
– Laura Sherman
(Yes, two carrot haiku, right next to each other. It freaked me out too.)
a ring around
– George O Hawkins
listening to myself
on the walk home
– Michael Rehling
Twitter was all cold this week too. And for some reason (okay, maybe my foreign-language fetish), it seemed very polyglot.
First of all, my Twitter friend Polona Oblak, or one cloud, whose username is cirrusdream, overheard me raving in a tweet about how much I liked foreign-language haiku and generously offered to translate some of her haiku into Slovenian, her first language. (Great quotation from Polona: “the problem is, although i’m not a native english speaker, my muse appears to be.”)
There are SO many things I love about this — first of all the fact that Slovenian is a Slavic language, so I can actually semi-follow what’s going on here. (All Slavic languages are alike, but some are more alike than others. [Whoa -- Tolstoy/Orwell mashup! Didn't see that coming.])
Secondly the fact that in Slovenian, this haiku is so highly alliterative and even rhymes a little. English haiku needs more of that. Remind me to do some of that some time soon.
a spider weaves its web
under a neon light
pajek plete mrežo
pod neonsko lučjo
– Polona Oblak (cirrusdream)
Then, I believe the very same day, I had the incredibly thrilling experience of discovering a Twitterer who writes haiku in Esperanto. Not just any haiku. Good haiku. (Excuse me: hajko.) I am still in shock that there is a person like this in the world. I like the world better now.
pelas norda vent’ unuopajn neĝerojn… sonoriladon
north wind drives snowflakes one by one… a bell rings and rings.
– Steven D. Brewer (limako)
– David Serjeant
Watching the first one,
two, three . . . four, five, six . . . seven
snowflakes fall outside.
(And okay … I got a little sidetracked here. I have a huge weakness, for some reason, for haiku with numbers in them. In fact, one of my favorites among my own haiku is still this one that I wrote way back in, like, the first week I ever wrote haiku. I went looking for more information about these number-haiku things and ended up, naturally enough, on Gabi Greve’s territory, reading this amazing essay-full-of-inspiring-examples. I have to read it again, when I can spend more time on it.)
(And another slight detour, this one possibly even verging on Deep Thought. This quotation, from a very famous Japanese haiku poet, got in my face when I read it on someone’s Facebook page this week — I’m sorry, Facebook person, I don’t remember who you are, but thanks for posting this! It reminded me of the essay by Aubrie Cox I wrote about a couple of weeks ago:
“The reader of a haiku is indispensable to the working of ma. This person must notice the ma and sense the kokoro of the poet. A haiku is not completed by the poet. The poet creates half of the haiku, while the remaining half must wait for…the appearance of a superior reader. Haiku is literature created jointly by the poet and the reader. A Western poem is the product of the poet alone, and thus here also the way of thinking about haiku is different.”
– Hasegawa Kai
I must say, I feel very fortunate to have had the occasional “superior reader” show up here to complete my haiku, because God knows they [my haiku, that is] need all the help they can get…)
This haiku from David Marshall, at haiku streak, is an exception to this week’s astronomy-and-snow theme, but it does seem somehow to complement Hasegawa’s words. It’s called Old Friends, and don’t tell me haiku aren’t supposed to have titles. They can if they want to. It’s a free country.
Silence that ripens,
silence that stays green, silence
fallen and sere
– David Marshall
I’ll finish up with the astronomical phenomena, since this is, after all, a voyage across the Haikuverse…
long road trip —
Orion’s belt rests
on the dashboard
– Terri L. French
November sky —
I used to remember
which planet that was
– extra special bitter
As I recently mentioned to someone, I sometimes have difficulty myself even in recalling exactly which planet we are supposed to be on, so I can relate to this sentiment. You know — keeping track of where you are can get to be a challenge when you spend as much time wandering the Haikuverse as I do …
Have a great week, and don’t get lost in space.
The Haikuverse in the fourth dimension:
This one is just silly. It’s that kind of day. And week. And month. And, I suspect, life.
Too much technology, coming at me too fast.
You should have seen the one I wrote about the digital divide. (I am extremely digitally divided.)
looking at mushrooms and saying they are clouds
the sixth of August waiting for all this to detonate
those memories shadows burned into the pavement
Hiroshima Day is a summer kigo that is, obviously, very significant to the Japanese. As you’d expect, most haiku on this subject are quite somber and serious, and are much more likely to refer to history, politics, and social issues than your typical haiku.
I didn’t want to write something light and frivolous for Hiroshima Day, but I also didn’t want to write haiku that were specifically about the bombing — I wanted to write haiku that used images of nuclear bomb attacks to comment on more personal matters. It’s hard to know whether this approach is respectful of the suffering of the bombing victims or whether it’s cluelessly callous — after all, it was my country that dropped those bombs, albeit a generation before I was born.
I will say that I spent a large part of my later childhood and adolescent years, which coincided with the heightening of and then the end of the Cold War, very, very fearful of nuclear war, and so these images for me do have a personal significance that goes beyond the history of Hiroshima. I think there is an almost universal fear of nuclear war now in the human psyche, which has arisen from what we know of the horrors of those Japanese bombings. So it’s not really that I’m trying to appropriate someone else’s experience here for the purpose of making poetry, more that I’m trying to express what has become universal about that experience.
Man, sorry to be such a bummer on what is, here at least, a really beautiful summer day. I promise to have something more fun to read tomorrow …
he comes back
singing “Am I Blue”
a jay squawks
sky clouded over
this blue pill
It started out as a coincidence that I had a couple of haiku featuring the word “blue” in my gigantic slush pile of rough ku that I need to either revise or flush down the toilet. Then I decided that I liked them (or rather their heavily revised reincarnations) paired together, except they needed another companion, because two haiku aren’t really a sequence, but three are. But I’ll shut up now with the boring commentary and let you discover what else you can about this grouping.
When I was writing about renga the other day, I said something about poetry writing having been a basic communication tool for the Japanese (at least the upper classes) back in the old days.
At the time, I was thinking “old days” = hundreds of years ago. But later, I remembered a scene from my favorite Japanese novel, The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki, which is set in the 1930s. This wonderful scene describes a family — three adults and a ten-year-old girl — writing poetry together as an evening activity the way an American family might play a board game.
Background: The book describes the lives of an upper-middle-class family consisting of four sisters, two married and two not. (Much of the drama of the story lies in the family’s efforts to get the two single sisters married off, and protect their reputations in the meantime. The book reads amazingly like a nineteenth-century English or French or Russian novel.)
At the beginning of the story, one married sister is living in Tokyo with her family; the other three are living in Osaka in the household of the other married sister. Then, due to complicated circumstances, one of the single sisters goes to live in Tokyo too. Everyone misses her. So — apparently more or less as a matter of course — they decide one night to write her some poetry:
“Suppose we each write something,” said Teinosuke [the married sister's husband]. It was some twenty days later, on the night of the autumn full moon. Everyone thought this an excellent idea, and after dinner Teinosuke, Sachiko, Taeko, and Etsuko gathered near the veranda of a Japanese-style room downstairs. The traditional moon-viewing flowers and fruit had been set out. When O-haru had ground the ink, Teinosuke, Sachiko, and Etsuko each composed a poem. Taeko, who was not good at poetry, did a quick ink wash of the moon coming through pine branches.
The clouds are passing.
The pines reach out for the moon.
The night of the full moon.
Here, one shadow is missing.
The moon tonight–
Yukiko sees it in Tokyo.
– Junichiro Tanizaki, The Makioka Sisters, trans. Edward Seidensticker
(The final poem, by the way, is by the ten-year-old.)
I don’t know whether these poems are meant to be haiku in the original Japanese. They are certainly haiku-like, though. And it’s interesting to me that there doesn’t seem to be any discussion among the family about what kind of poetry to write, yet everyone produces the same kind, as if everyone just knows that this is the kind of poetry you write on an occasion like this. Clearly poetry-writing has been a standard part of their upbringing and education. (I also think it’s touching and funny that there’s one sister who considers herself, or is considered, “not good at poetry,” and who instead specializes in a different sort of traditional Japanese art.)
Tanizaki wrote this book during and after World War II partly out of nostalgia for what he saw as the lost culture of prewar Japan — there is a lot of information about the family engaging in traditional Japanese music, dance, theater, and crafts as well. So maybe he was simply more inclined to portray characters as cultured and artistic, and this is not a realistic representation of what a typical Japanese family of their class and time would have done. But the scene seems so quiet and matter-of-fact that it’s hard to believe it was a complete fantasy on his part.