Tag: history

Scala Naturae

She wanted to know more about the world so I tried to show her on my computer. Skyscrapers, jungles, whales, suicide bombers, symphony orchestras, polar bears, satellites, the Beatles…

tundra—
advertising jingles

I could tell it wasn’t making sense so I went back to the beginning. The dust, the gases, the gathering oceans. Life: a mystery. Some time later, complicated apes wandering out of Africa and getting organized. Talking, building, planting, writing. How little I knew. How little anyone. How.

between Plato and Pluto dark matter

The story would always be unfinished. Her eyes would always be enormous and confused. She’d probably never see any of these things and if she did it would be because something had gone very wrong.

the ringmaster points his whip at a cloud

It grew dark. I grew silent. She bent over to see me better, as if I were a child. Her mouth opened and showed all her teeth. She asked, “Is that all?”

swinging from tree to tree absolute zero

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Haiku North America, Day 4

In the last installment of this thrilling diary, as you may recall, we left our heroes at a bar in the small hours of the morning. After the small hours of the morning, I’m sure you’re aware, come the large hours of the morning, and if you haven’t slept very much in between the small hours and the large hours, the large hours can be very painful.

All this is by way of excuse for my missing the first event of Saturday morning, a panel discussion by Maggie Chula, Penny Harter, Jerry Ball, and Garry Gay called, “Who Wrote That? How My Haiku Has Changed Over Three Decades.” I heard from reliable reporters that it was a fascinating discussion, but I don’t think I would have enjoyed it while holding my head and moaning. To distract you from the fact that I have nothing to report from this session, I will now present some placeholding Pretty Pictures from Around the Conference.

Ikebana 1Ikebana 2Seattle Center courtyard

Great ikebana, eh? Beautiful courtyard sculpture. Now what were we talking about?

… Oh yes. The second session of the morning. Of many tempting options I chose to attend Paul Miller‘s talk on “Stretching Western Haiku (Gendai Haiku in the West).” The question Paul posed to us was, “How far can you stretch haiku and still consider it haiku?”

I’m not sure he or any of us came to a definitive conclusion on this, but Paul did an excellent job of analyzing Japanese gendai haiku and dividing it into some broad categories, including: Haiku that are metaphors or similes; Haiku that are “fantastic transformations” (in the “fantasy” or surreal sense of the word) where one object turns into another in a way that is impossible in real life; Haiku that are “fantastic metaphors”; Haiku that are “just fantastic”; Haiku that directly tell; Haiku that are “private discourse,” depending on associations known only to the author; and Haiku that contain abstract language. In Paul’s estimation, only the second, third, and fourth categories are really effective as haiku. Here’s one from category two that most of us really liked:

After a heated argument
I go out to the street
and become a motorcycle.

— Kaneko Tota

I might not place all Paul’s examples into the same categories he did, I might not have the same categories, and I might not have the same opinions about which haiku and which categories are effective. But as he said, this is just a place to begin thinking and talking about gendai and how it works. There will certainly continue to be endless discussion in the years to come.

…And oh yeah. Charlie Trumbull didn’t announce this until later in the day on Saturday, but here would probably be a good place to report that Paul will be the next editor of Modern Haiku, starting in the spring of 2013. Congratulations to him. Here he is (he’s not this blurry in real life):

Paul Miller

Shortly after this session ended we were all shooed in the direction of the Space Needle (a few blocks from our convention center) for the HNA banquet. You know how banquets work, right? You have them in landmark buildings in rooms with spectacular views … no, wait. Usually you have them in dark, dull hotel banquet rooms with no windows. Thanks to the HNA planning committee for making ours more interesting.

View from Space Needle

We did have some more normal banquet features, such as banquet tables that everyone takes an endless time to get settled at because they’re all busy talking to each other.

HNA BanquetEve Luckring and KazJim Kacian, Marilyn Hazelton, Billie Dee, Richard GilbertAlso, a charity auction with a highly entertaining auctioneer who is also a haiku poet, named David Ash. It was called an Unsilent Auction because mostly it was a silent auction except for the part where David was talking. If you see what I mean.

Silently, I won (by cleverly bidding four dollars over the cover price) a copy of John Martone’s Ksana, which I have wanted since the moment I first heard it existed. No, you can’t borrow it.

… Oh yes. And what haiku conference would be complete without a visit from Elvis?

David Ash

Elvis with Katharine Hawkinson

Not HNA, that’s for sure. That’s Carlos Colon all dressed up there (with HNA volunteer and organizer extraordinaire Katharine Hawkinson). Without video or audio I cannot fully convey to you the brilliance of Carlos’s performance as Haiku Poet Elvis. There were many hardened poets laughing so hard that tears came to their eyes and they nearly needed to be resuscitated. If I hadn’t been laughing so hard myself I would have written down Elvis’s entire haiku repertoire, which amounted to several dozen poems, but here are a couple I managed to control myself long enough to record. These were all interspersed with appropriate Elvis-like patter. Again, it had to be seen to be believed.

Lily…
out of the water
out of her suit

jailhouse rock
it bounces off the head
of a heckler

— Carlos Colon (“Elvis”)

Carlos was a tough act to follow but unfortunately I had to follow him. Not just me, of course — me, Fay Aoyagi, Gene Myers, and Don Wentworth, who had to hustle down from the Space Needle and get back to the conference center for our presentation on Haiku Blogging. We were delayed a bit waiting for the audience members who were still in the elevator trying to get off the top of the Needle. Still, we had a fairly entertaining discussion and not a bad crowd at all considering most of them were still trying to digest banquet food and the amazing spectacle of Carlos Colon as Elvis. I don’t have any pictures, sorry, I forgot to give my phone to anyone to record me for posterity. (There are some pictures floating around Facebook, though, if you hang out there in haiku circles. I look like a tired, short woman sitting at a table.)

Far more interesting was the next presentation, by Eve Luckring, on “Video Renku: Link and Shift in Visual Language.” Eve is a photographer and filmmaker as well as a highly original haiku poet. She began by discussing the film technique of Sergei Eisenstein, including his theory of “montage” and the different visual effects that could be used by filmmakers to evoke different emotional responses. We saw numerous clips from Eisenstein films such as “Battleship Potemkin.”

Then, brilliantly, Eve drew parallels with these montage techniques and the linking techniques used in renku, such as word association and the elusive concept of “scent.” When our minds had been sufficiently blown by this comparison, she introduced an exercise: Giving us all prints of photographs, she asked us to write a renku link to them, concentrating primarily not on the subject matter of the photograph but on its visual elements (see below for Eve’s slide describing these).

It’s difficult to explain without presenting these photographs exactly how this exercise worked or how brilliantly compelling it was, but when I get home I am going to do some more of this. I found it really worked to knock loose unusual images and unexpected comparisons from my mind. This was one of my favorite presentations at the conference.

Eve Luckring
Visual language in photography

After this, I found myself once again compelled by exhaustion to miss a couple of events I would have loved to have seen and heard excellent reports of later — the folk music of La Famille Leger (Dejah Leger and her husband), and Terry Ann Carter‘s presentation on the history of haiku in Canada.

Instead, I went off and had a bite in the hotel courtyard and breathed for a while, and then came back to hear Charlie Trumbull‘s fascinating, comprehensive talk on the history of haiku in English. Can you say “forty-eleven well-designed PowerPoint slides accompanied by a well-structured, erudite, but eminently listenable speech that all must have taken Charlie the better part of forever to put together”? I thought so.

Here’s one of his slides pointing out the effect that the writings of Thoreau and Emerson had on early haiku poets in English. Obviously. Duh. I knew that.

Emerson and Thoreau

I was especially grateful for Charlie’s presentation during the next event of the evening. It was a “Haiku Bowl,” created and moderated by Charlie and Jim Kacian, and featuring two teams facing off, striving to win glory and honor by answering questions about haiku history. The Frog team featured contestants Eve Luckring, Michael Dylan Welch, David Lanoue, and Fay Aoyagi and the clacking alligators they used to signal when they knew the answer to a question. The Bird team featured contestants Emiko Miyashita, Cor van den Heuvel, Richard Gilbert, me, and our bird whistles. (I would just like to state for the record that it takes longer to produce a sound with a bird whistle than an alligator clacker.)

Rooster whistle

Mostly I sat back in amazement while the other Birds and the Frogs brought forth all kinds of obscure haiku knowledge from the depths of their powerful brains. When I knew the answer to something, it was usually because everyone did. We were all greatly helped, though, by having just attended Charlie’s lecture. Our team was further assisted by having one of the questions be “What was the title of Cor van den Heuvel’s first published book?”

It was a fun, light-hearted contest and the two teams took turns being in the lead, ending with an elegantly arranged near-tie. Okay, technically the Frogs won, but only because they had a better idea of what the population of Livermore, California is. Don’t ask. But we all had a great time, and we also all got prizes. The Frogs got a box of flies and the Birds got a box of worms.

See?

Worm box

This rip-roaring pseudo-entertainment was followed by some real entertainment by talented people — La Famille Leger once again, providing the music for a square dance. It looked the kind of thing that would be great fun if you weren’t ready to topple over with exhaustion. So I stuck around to take a few pictures and then went back to the hotel. Where I stayed up too late blogging. But hey! At least I hadn’t had any fun square dancing!

La Famille Leger

Square dancing

Square dancing circle

… And that was the end to the official conference-type activities of Haiku North America 2011. Coming tomorrow: The official tourist-type activities of Haiku North America 2011. Featuring fog, panting hikers, totem poles, and salmon. Don’t miss it.

April 17 (House of Blues)

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house of blues
the temptation
to join in
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(NaHaiWriMo topic: Houses)
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Moving on:

NaHaiWriMo prompt for April 18th (in honor of Patriots Day in the U.S.):

History

_____________________________

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.)

Gendai haiku

Continuing in my time-honored tradition of writing lengthy, dull essays about things I know practically nothing about, I wanted to ramble on for a while about my recent explorations of gendai haiku. A plea: even if you are not interested in my sketchy research, uninformed opinions, or pretentious literary analysis, you should at least skim down to read what are some pretty cool haiku. (By other people, needless to say.)

The Japanese term “gendai” simply means “modern,” but in the context of haiku it seems to carry the connotation of something more like “avant-garde” or “experimental” in English. Scott Metz, who is a pretty avant-garde American haiku poet himself, explains its origins on his blog “lakes and now wolves”:

“… influenced by changes in culture, society, economics, art, and literature—globalization—many different schools and strands of haiku developed during the 20th century. … Starting with a foundation centered more on realism and experience, 20th century haiku immediately expanded into areas such as politics, subjectivity, the avant-garde, feminism, urbanism, surrealism, the imaginary, symbolism, individuality, and science fiction: in general, free-form and experimental aesthetics. … The rigid limitations and conservatism of traditional techniques (namely 5-7-5 on/syllabets and the necessity of a kigo) were no longer absolutes for Japanese poets.”

— Scott Metz, for ku by

I first encountered the term “gendai” in an essay by Peter Yovu on the website of The Haiku Foundation, troutswirl, where several compelling examples of the genre are cited, such as:

like squids

bank clerks are fluorescent

from the morning


—Kaneko Tōta (trans. Makoto Ueda)


in front of the scarlet mushroom

my comb slips off


—Yagi Mikajo
 (trans. by Richard Gilbert)


from the sight

of the man who was killed

we also vanished


—Murio Suzuki (trans. by Gendai Haiku Kyokai)

(All examples from Peter Yovu, What is Your Reponse to Gendai Haiku?)

These examples seemed so exciting to me, so much more interesting than the standard Zen-nature-moment haiku, which I confess I’m getting a little weary of, that I went straight off to gendaihaiku.com, a website by Richard Gilbert, one of the most influential Western scholars and proponents of gendai. It contains profiles of some of the masters of gendai haiku, videotaped interviews with them, and examples of their work. There I found stuff like this:

wheat –
realizing death as one color
gold

Uda Kiyoko

revolution

in the snowy kiosk

for sale        .?

Hoshinaga

–[Gilbert adds an explanatory note to this haiku:] … Kiosks filled with novel items began to appear in train stations throughout postwar Japan as the rail lines developed, and represented a new world, a new era of consumption and economic development. The resulting revolution spoken of here is domestic and cultural. A unique formal feature of this haiku is its last, fragmentary character na, which follows a question marker (ka), comma, and space, a uniquely creative contribution. Hovering between a statement of certainty and strong doubt (disbelief?), an indefinite solution is created by the orthography, causing this haiku to reflect back upon its topic, deepening the question.


cherry blossoms fall

—
you too must become

a hippo

Nenten Tsubouchi

water of spring
as water wetted
water, as is

Hasegawa Kai

–Hasegawa comments.
 Almost anything in this world can be wetted by water. However, the one thing that cannot be wetted in this way is water itself. Although water wets other things but cannot itself be wetted, I nonetheless intuit that the water of spring, uniquely, has a special quality in that it can be wetted — though it too is water.


There are clearly a lot of cultural and translation barriers to a non-Japanese fully understanding these poems — among other problems, I still don’t quite get why Tsubouchi wants me to be a hippo. But it struck me forcefully that these poets were clearly not interested in following the “rules” about haiku, particularly about haiku subject matter, that so many English haiku poets seem insistent on and fearful of breaking.

These poems aren’t about “haiku moments.” They have vivid and compelling images; but they’re allusive, elusive, experimental, full of large ideas — not just tiny moments of awareness. I say this not to cast aspersions on tiny moments of awareness, just to point out that in the culture where haiku developed, there is apparently a much broader conception of what constitutes a “real” haiku than in our own.

In an interview with Robert Wilson, Gilbert points out that gendai haiku poets are not breaking off decisively from the classical haiku tradition, that haiku has always been about referencing the past while making accommodation to the present:

“Gendai haiku partake of a tradition and culture in which, unlike that of the historical Judeo-Christian West, nature and culture were not extensively polarized. So in gendai haiku exists an invitation to the present and a future, in congruence with the past. This congruency is also an uprooting, accomplished via expansive and often experimental avant-garde language and techniques. Yet the old is likewise held in the new, in plying the form. The key to haiku, what makes it a brilliant literature, is that haiku cut through time and space …

“The gendai haiku tradition partakes of Bashō’s ‘world of mind,’ and like Bashō and other accomplished classical masters, extends a literary conversation. … [H]aiku are never merely singular works of art, they swim in an ocean of poetry, in which any given term (e.g. kigo or kidai) and image has multiple reference to over 1000 years of literary history (poems, historical events, personages, authors, myths, etc.). …”

— Richard Gilbert, “A Brilliant Literature: Robert Wilson Interviews Professor Richard Gilbert

I would add that haiku, in its several hundred years of existence, has undergone many changes in style and approach and has never been as limited in subject matter and structure as many Westerners seem to believe. A lot of what we now think of as “proper” haiku (the nature observation, the Zen moment of enlightenment) was a late-nineteenth-century development and actually, ironically, owed a lot to the realism of Western poetry, which was just beginning to be known in Japan at the time. Haruo Shirane, in his great essay Beyond the Haiku Moment, points out that early haiku were just as likely (or more so) to concern historical or literary or entirely imaginary subjects as the personal experience of the poet:

Basho traveled to explore the present, the contemporary world, to meet new poets, and to compose linked verse together. Equally important, travel was a means of entering into the past, of meeting the spirits of the dead, of experiencing what his poetic and spiritual predecessors had experienced. In other words, there were two key axes: one horizontal, the present, the contemporary world; and the other vertical, leading back into the past, to history, to other poems. …  Basho believed that the poet had to work along both axes. To work only in the present would result in poetry that was fleeting. To work just in the past, on the other hand, would be to fall out of touch with the fundamental nature of haikai, which was rooted in the everyday world. Haikai was, by definition, anti- traditional, anti-classical, anti-establishment, but that did not mean that it rejected the past. Rather, it depended upon the past and on earlier texts and associations for its richness.

— Haruo Shirane, Beyond the Haiku Moment

An interesting historical note about this movement is that gendai haiku poets underwent significant persecution at the hands of the Japanese government during World War II, as is chillingly explained in an article in the haiku journal “Roadrunner” (again, by Richard Gilbert):

“[B]y the 1920s … the ‘New Rising Haiku movement’ (shinkô haiku undô) wished to compose haiku on new subjects, and utilize techniques and topics related to contemporary social life. These poets frequently wrote haiku without kigo (muki-teki haiku), and explored non-traditional subjects, such as social inequity, utilizing avant‑garde styles including surrealism, etc. …

“During the war, over 40 New Rising Haiku poets were persecuted; they were imprisoned and tortured, and some died in prison. … [The director of a haiku society associated with the government stated:] ‘I will not allow haiku even from the most honorable person, from left-wing, or progressive, or anti-war, groups to exist. If such people are found in the haiku world, we had better persecute them, and they should be punished.’

“… According to the fascist-traditionalists, to write haiku without kigo meant anti-tradition, which in turn meant anti-Imperial order and high treason. …

“One sees that, historically, ‘freedom of expression’ in the gendai haiku movement was not an idle aesthetic notion. … The liberal, democratic spirit and freedom of expression exhibited by the New Rising Haiku poets remains at the core of gendai haiku.”

— Richard Gilbert, “Gendai Haiku Translations

In this same article Gilbert and Ito Yuki offer translations of some haiku by this generation of persecuted poets, all of which, naturally, are a little on the dark side — but exhibit the same freshness of approach as my previous examples:

clean kills: in a night war a canyon a crab
–
Hirahata Seito

the shriek of artillery
birds beasts fish shellfish
chilling dim

— 
Saito Sanki

leaving a withered tree
being shot as a withered tree
— 
Sugimura Seirinshi

machine gun
in the forehead
the killing flower blooms
— 
Saito Sanki

(Translations by Richard Gilbert and Ito Yuki, from Gendai Haiku Translations“)

If you’re starting to wonder if all gendai haiku are dark and depressing…fear not. A wonderful place to sample a wide variety of gendai haiku is Blue Willow Haiku World, the website of the fine Japanese-American haiku poet Fay Aoyagi, which features both her own haiku and that of modern Japanese haiku poets in her own translations. A few examples:

no hesitation

he comes and whispers

in a dancer’s ear

–Suju Takano

from “Gendai no Haiku” (Modern Haiku), edited by Shobin Hirai, Kodansha, Tokyo, 1996

— posted by Fay Aoyagi on Blue Willow Haiku World June 9, 2010


azuki-bean jelly

I prefer a comic play

with a quiet plot

–Shuoshi Mizuhara

from “Gendai no Haiku” (Modern Haiku), edited by Shobin Hirai, Kodansha, Tokyo, 1996

— posted by Fay Aoyagi on Blue Willow Haiku World June 7, 2010


bubbled water

it wets

an equation

— Keishu Ogawa

from “Gendai Haiku Hyakunin Nijukku” (“Modern Haiku: 20 Haiku per100 Poets”), edited by Kazuo Ibaraki, Kiyoko Uda, Nenten Tsubouchi, Kazuko Nishimura, You-shorin, Nagano, 2004

Fay’s Note:  “sôda-sui” (bubbled/carbonated water) is a summer kigo.

One can write a Japanese haiku without a subject word.   Most of time, the subject is “I,” the poet.   But this one, I am not sure.   I see two people (somehow, a male and female students) studying together.   It is a summer time.

Between them, cans (or glasses) of bubbled water…   But the translation can be

bubbled water

I wet

an equation

— posted by Fay Aoyagi on Blue Willow Haiku World June 6, 2010

So far I’ve been discussing this genre as a strictly Japanese phenomenon. But the inevitable question is: Are there “gendai haiku” in English?

Richard Gilbert responds:

“I’m not even sure [the term ‘gendai’] should be used for any haiku natively-written in English. For instance, I would not say so-and-so a haiku is ‘gendai’ as a matter of style, unless I meant it was similar in style to that of a known gendai poet of Japan … As of yet, we do not have a ‘gendai-like’ movement in English-language haiku poetry, though there are some poets writing innovative works. … It’s my thought that we can learn and appreciate, though innovate with autonomy.”

— Richard Gilbert, “A Brilliant Literature: Robert Wilson Interviews Professor Richard Gilbert

I’m planning to write a post soon about some English-language haiku poets who are innovating in what seem to me gendai-like ways — including Metz and Gilbert themselves. In the meantime, I’d welcome comments on these poems and this poetic phenomenon: How do you feel about haiku in this style? Do you think there is a similar movement in English? Should I just stick to haiku and leave the dry academic treatises to the experts? Let your opinion be known.