Across the Haikuverse, No. 25: The Necessarily Brief Edition

It’s getting to be that time of the semester. The time when you start muttering, “Oh, that’s good enough.” Not that I don’t have unwaveringly high standards of excellence. (Did you hear that, professors? Unwavering!) It’s just that… life is a matter of priorities. A balancing act. Term papers, haiku, term papers, haiku… okay, haiku, but just this once.

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poems

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however the planets align a stack of pumpkins

— Mark Holloway, Beachcombing for the Landlocked

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A spring evening I ride a car with an ordinary man

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Having got used to the depth of war I love a dog

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A spring evening is wound down toward the apple skin

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— Fujiki Kiyoko, translated by Hiroaki Sato on antantantantant’s blog

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針金と針金からみ秋の暮    奥坂まや
harigane to harigane karami aki no kure

a wire and a wire
twining—
autumn dusk

– Maya Okusaka, translated by Fay Aoyagi, Blue Willow Haiku World

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the morning glories
gain the second floor
half a million dead in Iraq

– Ellis Avery, on antantantantant’s blog

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poems and pictures (please visit the links to see the pictures)

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Hear the sough of rain
I whisper a secret
so that I can get in

— Tomas Tranströmer, most recent winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, illustrated by Kuniharu Shimizu at see haiku here
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blossoming witch hazel
I pound a stuck storm window
with a Chinese dictionary

— Dave Bonta, Woodrat Photoblog

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winter sun
I think twice about
destroying this web

– Kirsten Cliff, Swimming in Lines of Haiku

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night rain -
he tells me
he slept well

— sanjuktaa, wild berries

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ʈɧɛ ųɳįѵɛŗʂɛ
ą ɖįƒƒɛŗɛɳʈ čȏɳѵɛŗʂąʈįȏɳ
įɳ ʈɧɛ ɳįǥɧʈ

— Rick Daddario, 19 Planets

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divorce finalized—
a monarch floats
among falling leaves

— Aubrie Cox, Yay Words!

(Also, written anything about tea and/or monsters lately? You might want to think about contributing to Aubrie’s Monster Mash. Deadline Oct. 29.)

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interviewed

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Not long ago Johannes S.H. Bjerg gave a wonderful interview to an Indian magazine, okiedoks. Read it here.

Excerpt:

I like to “stretch” the language, I want to take it where it almost loses sense because of its inadequacy to express exactly what is inexpressible. This sounds cryptic, and it is. Language can go only so far … but how far before it becomes sheer nonsense … It’s a bit like pricking a hole in “reality” to find another “reality.” And this is where it makes no sense talking about anymore. Only the poem can do that.

– Johannes S.H. Bjerg

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essayed

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This passage by Randy Brooks from his Modern Haiku review of Richard Gilbert’s Poems of Consciousness has been some of my favorite food for thought recently.

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It has always been my contention that the haiku community needs to get past the beginner’s mind of definitions and rules and get on with the celebration of the diversity of the genre that is rich and strong only to the extent that there is a wide range of practice, a surprising freshness of voices and perspectives. We need to embrace and celebrate haiku writers who relish dense language and the naming function of words, haiku writers who live in the woods and tap into the biodiversity of ecosystems there, haiku writers who protest injustice and go to jail, haiku writers who resist the male ego dominance of English, haiku writers who meditate and seek the quiet voice within, haiku writers who celebrate being social and the significance of being in community, haiku writers who are religious within a variety of spiritual traditions, haiku writers who are all about people, haiku writers who write senryu and don’t care about the distinction, haiku writers who are international citizens of the world using haiku to bridge cultures, haiku writers who are so local nobody but friends at the local pub understand them. This diversity of writers and approaches to haiku is the strength and rich surprise of elasticity found in this literary genre.

— Randy Brooks, Modern Haiku 40:1, Winter 2009

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Dead Tree News

I generally hate to quote and run but this time I think I’ll just toss a few of my favorites from the most recent issues of two of my favorite journals at you.

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From Frogpond 34:3

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after the argument
separating
lights and darks

— Kristen B. Deming

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after she leaves
the weight
of hanging apples

— Marsh Muirhead

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lightning strike
the mean streak in me
deepens

— Aubrie Cox

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From Modern Haiku 42:3 –

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as if each promise
carried a different weight
breaking waves

— Angela Terry

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Halbmond
die Baukräne
in Berlin
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half moon
the construction cranes
of Berlin

— Dietmar Tauchner

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summer afternoon
the salamander basking
in inattention

— Ernest Wit

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table talk
the knife resting
on the spoon

— Francine Banwarth

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imaginary mouse
i feed him
fear

— Tyrone McDonald

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the need to formulate an archival appraisal policy for born-digital materials … what was that? Oh, sorry, I opened the wrong window on my desktop again… well, while I’m here at this window I guess I’ll look at the sky for a while.

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into the fog the stars are no exception

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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.

Haiku North America, Day 3

Long day. Long post. I’ll see what I can do but my usual sparkling repartee may be a little off. Feel free to insert wisecracks and trenchant observations of your own wherever you feel they’re appropriate.

Okay. (Deep breath.) Got up all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed on Friday morning and ran off to a presentation by Wanda Cook on Erotic Haiku. (Actually, Wanda prefers to call them “sensual.”) In case you were wondering how many haiku poets actually write erotic/sensual haiku, Wanda’s unscientific survey of 30 haiku poets revealed that 28 of them do and the other 2 were offended by the very suggestion that they would do such a thing. Also, about the same percentages of men and women publish erotic haiku as publish haiku in general. (55% men, 45% women, more or less.) Here she is telling us all these things.

Wanda Cook

Wanda herself has been writing sensual haiku for a while (but her grown son doesn’t want to know about it, so shhh) and has collaborated quite a bit with Larry Kimmel on erotic haiku sequences.

frosted windows
holding him
deep inside

– Wanda Cook

She broke us up into small groups and gave us some sensual haiku to look at and try to decide whether it was written by a man or a woman and, I don’t know, how sensual it was exactly. Our group had a lively discussion about a haiku involving blackberries and lips (as Billie Dee asked, “Which lips?”). We mostly all thought it was written by a woman. It turned out to have been written by Michael Dylan Welch. So we were wrong.

Here are my fellow group members (Billie Dee, Garry Gay, Penny Harter) pondering it.

Billie DeeGarry Gay

Penny Harter

And below are a few of the other attendees at the presentation, doing likewise with their own assigned poems. (Dejah Leger, Johnny Baranski, Lidia Rozmus, Carolyn Hall, Charlie Trumbull, Tina Grabenhorst)

Dejah Leger, Johnny BaranskiLidia Rozmus, Carolyn Hall, Charlie TrumbullTina Grabenhorst

The mood turned a little more somber in the next hour as Marjorie Buettner presented a tribute to all the haiku poets that had died in the two years since the last HNA. It was meticulously researched and prepared and extremely moving.

Marjorie Buettner presentation

Then we were herded like cats by Michael Dylan Welch down a flight of steps to have our group picture taken. I took a picture of the photographers, because I always feel that zoo animals should be given cameras to record our crazy antics.

Photographers

Set free, I went to eat Indian food for lunch with Don Wentworth and Susan Diridoni. We ate too much and talked nonstop about poetry. Here is a dark and mysterious picture of Don.

Don Wentworth

Don has a great new chapbook out called Past All Traps which you should buy and read.

mistake after mistake
after mistake, adding up
to just the right thing
— Don Wentworth

(This is my new motto for life.)

Past All Traps

We rushed back after lunch so as not to miss Carlos Colon‘s presentation on concrete poetry. (Do a Google search for “concrete poetry” and click on “images.” Your mind will be blown.) It was a blast. Here are some examples from Carlos’s handout.

Concrete poetry

Then moving right along, to a great lecture by David Lanoue on the portrayal of frogs in the poetry of Issa – specifically, the way Issa attributes human qualities to frogs (and sometimes vice versa), which David attributes to Issa’s Pureland Buddhist beliefs about the essential equality of the souls of all creatures.

karisome no yomeri tsuki yo ya naku kawazu

a fleeting moonlit
wedding night…
frogs singing

— Issa, translated by David Lanoue

Here’s David, being thoughtful.

David Lanoue
… And zooming over to another room, for an open mic “Poetry Continuum” reading of the longer poetry of us haiku poets. I couldn’t believe the percentage of haiku poets who write non-haiku poetry. There was some great, great stuff. It was unanimously agreed that this should be a feature of all future incarnations of Haiku North America.

Here’s an assortment of poets who have taken off their haiku hats for the evening. (Cherie Hunter Day, Tracy Koretsky, Johnny Baranski, Ernesto Epistola, Margaret Chula, Kathy Munro, Terry Ann Carter, Tanya McDonald [waving the edition of A New Resonance her poetry appears in), and Ruth Yarrow)

Cherie Hunter DayTracy KoretskyJohnny BaranskiErnesto EpistolaMargaret ChulaKathy (kj) Munro

Tracy Ann CarterTanya McDonaldRuth Yarrow

After a lively dinner with Susan Diridoni, Tracy Koretsky, and Kathy Munro (can you imagine, there was more conversation about poetry), we headed back to hear yet another open mic, this one by poets who had recently published books (including Don). Didn’t get any pictures, sorry, I was too busy listening and admiring…

Then it was time for Richard Gilbert to give the William Higginson Memorial Lecture (this is the first time that one has been given). His topic was “Social Consciousness and the Poet’s Stance in 21st Century Haiku: From Kaneko Tohta to the Present.”

Richard Gilbert

Richard lives in Japan, is one of the world’s experts on gendai haiku, and is both extremely erudite and extremely passionate about his subject. He presented us with some dense, abstruse, but thought-provoking scholarship on modernist and post-modernist literature, including this passage from Charles Bernstein’s essay “Revenge of the Poet-Critic” which I may have to hang over my desk:

Words so often fail us. They do so little and they are so disappointing, leading us down blind alleys and up in smoke. But they are what we have, what we are given, and we can make them do what we want. Every poem is a model of some other world, a practice of some other reality; but it always leads back to this one, for if words give a way to envision possible worlds they don’t provide the way to inhabit them. …There is no place words cannot take us if we don’t take them as authorities, with fixed codes hardwired into the language, but as springs to jump with, or as trampolines to hurl ourselves, inward and outward, upward and downward, aslant and agog, round and unrounded.

– Charles Bernstein, from “Revenge of the Poet-Critic” in My Way

Then, in support of his contention that literature and in particular haiku should move away from strict realism towards more challenging and inventive uses of language, he presented us with numerous examples of avant-garde haiku from the most recent (February) issue of Roadrunner. A, shall we say, lively discussion ensued. Traditionalists muttered while gendai enthusiasts raved. The lecture went far past its scheduled expiration date and the discussion ended up moving to a pub where twenty or so of us stayed until closing time, ranting about poetry (just so you know, I mean this in the very nicest way) and causing endless trouble for the extremely patient waitstaff.

Pub crowd 1Richard Gilbert, Eve Luckring, Fay AoyagiCor van den Heuvel et al.Kaz, Sue Antolin, Susan Diridoni

I wish I’d gotten a picture of Richard Gilbert and Cor van den Heuvel leaning intently over the table toward each other, each nursing a scotch and cordially discussing their very different points of view on poetry (and their opinions on scotch). The theme of this year’s HNA is “Fifty Years of Haiku,” and it was amazing to see Cor, who’s been writing haiku for all of those fifty years and more, exchanging ideas with Richard, whose ideas may be pointing the way toward what much haiku will look like in another fifty years. It’s not too often you feel like you can see as far back into the past as you can see forward into the future. It was a privilege.

Haiku North America 2011 – Seattle, Washington

Logo for the Haiku North America Conference

Okay … forget everything else you’ve heard about where and when the Haiku North America conference will be held this summer. Just wipe it from your mind. This is the final, official, ultimate announcement about the conference. Only pay attention to this one. Got it?

Here goes: the official press release from the conference organizers:

Save the date! Haiku North America 2011 will be held August 3 to 7, 2011, in Seattle, Washington.

Members of the Haiku Northwest group have generously offered to host the 2011 conference and they have many exciting plans already in the works, including a harbor cruise. The conference itself will be held at the Seattle Center, at the foot of the Space Needle, providing easy access to haiku writing and walking opportunities such as Pike Place Market (via the monorail), the Olympic Sculpture Park, the Experience Music Project rock-and-roll museum and Science Fiction Museum, and countless other attractions—including fleet week and the Seafair festival, with the Blue Angels performing overhead.

The conference theme will be “Fifty Years of Haiku,” celebrating the past, present, and future of haiku in North America. The deadline for proposals has been extended to February 28, 2011 (http://www.haikunorthamerica.com/pages/2011.html), but sooner is better. Proposals do not have to fit the theme. If you’ve already submitted a proposal, please confirm with Michael Dylan Welch at WelchM@aol.com that you can come to Seattle on the new dates. Speakers already include Cor van den Heuvel, Richard Gilbert, David Lanoue, Carlos Colón, Fay Aoyagi, Jim Kacian, Emiko Miyashita, George Swede, and many others.

Detailed information on registration, lodging, and the conference schedule will be available in March. For further information as it becomes available, please visit http://www.haikunorthamerica.com. And check out the new HNA blog at http://haikunorthamerica.wordpress.com/.

See you in Seattle!

Garry Gay, Paul Miller, Michael Dylan Welch
Haiku North America

On being lectured at. And enjoying it.

I really, really hate sitting and listening to lectures. Especially long lectures. It’s hard for me to sit. It’s hard for me to concentrate for long stretches of time. It’s hard for me to take in information that is spoken — I’m a reader. In college I usually gave up going to my lecture classes after a while because I fell asleep after the first half hour anyway so it was more efficient just to stay home and read the textbook. Or take a nap.

Yesterday morning, however, I sat and listened to lectures for three hours straight, and never blinked. I was totally engrossed the entire time. Apparently lectures about haiku are an exception to my lecture-hating rule.

(It didn’t hurt that these lectures took place in the newly refurbished Mineral Point Opera House, originally built in 1919 and full of lovely architectural details. If you want pictures you’ll have to check out the link, since my iPhone decided at some point during the morning to go completely dead on me [don't worry, my son performed some kind of magic rite on it when I got home and now it's fine].

This also means, sadly, that I don’t have pictures of any of the wonderful people I met yesterday or of the town of Mineral Point, which is as far as I’m concerned the loveliest small town in Wisconsin. Also one of the oldest, and hilliest, so it makes this New England transplant feel right at home.)

Anyway. Back to the lectures. The first was a talk by Randy Brooks (one of the few haiku professors in the country) with the wonderful title of “A Tumbly Life of Haiku: The Poetics of Robert Spiess.” He took us through a chronological selection of Spiess’ poetry, analyzing his development as a haiku writer from, essentially, more to less traditional. The early ku are mostly conventional in form and nature-based, though keenly observed:

all water turned ice:
delicately a gray squirrel
is lapping snow

the day after rain;
a reach of river bank
scattered with morels

Later Spiess experimented more with both form and subject matter:

a    square
of    water
r e f l e c t s
the    moon

making lunch for refugees —
my back turned, a child
picks through the garbage pail

*
The next lecture, which really enthralled me, was Lee Gurga’s talk on “Robert Spiess’s Muse and the Future of American Haiku.” Lee managed to touch on just about every issue in the writing of contemporary haiku that most interests and concerns me, and enhanced my understanding of all these issues by about five hundred percent. Also, he was entertaining and inspiring.

I took copious notes, which I will try to distill down to a reasonable length. This may mean that I don’t represent Lee’s ideas in the order they appeared in his talk. And needless to say, apologies to Lee if I don’t get the details right or end up misrepresenting what he was saying — this was a dense and challenging lecture and I struggled to type fast enough to get it all down.

Lee started out by saying that he was currently collaborating on an anthology of haiku from current journals with Scott Metz, whom he considers the most talented haiku poet in the under-40 generation. Despite the fact that Scott’s experimental haiku are at the opposite end of the haiku spectrum from Lee’s more traditional poems, Lee thinks the future of American haiku lies with experimental and gendai poets such as Metz, Richard Gilbert and Jim Kacian. (I find these guys exciting myself and have written a couple of essays about them.)

Lee spoke about the process of editing Gilbert’s seminal essay “The Disjunctive Dragonfly” in 2004 when he, Lee, was the editor of Modern Haiku. The essay outlines Gilbert’s view of haiku poetics, which emphasizes disjunction — a complicated concept, maybe best summed up as a sort of disorientation or shift in viewpoint, intended to “erupt the complacent mind” of the reader. Traditional haiku, in contrast, tend to favor juxtaposition — a finding of commonality between disparate elements — and to emphasize clarity of language, with a goal of enlightening the reader.

Disjunction, imagistic fusion, language as language rather than a way to convey meaning — these characteristics of experimental haiku, Lee said, have “sent haiku off in all different directions”  — an exciting development. He thinks these techniques will produce haiku that are successful both as haiku and as short poems.

Lee discussed a bit about the history of English-language haiku: The early haiku translator R.H. Blythe, one of the first to introduce haiku to the English-speaking world, had a romantic vision of haiku as poems of discovery rather than of invention. In the sixties and seventies, the haiku ideal tended to be “the aha moment” — a sudden experience of enlightenment.

Gradually poets began to realize that these aha moments could take place at the time of the experience or at the time of writing. And the new experimental poets tend to think that the idea of writing about aha moments at the time of experience is a little played out. Lee himself, although he thinks this type of haiku will always be written, doesn’t think they will provide the future direction for American haiku. The new haiku poetry tends to consider words themselves the object of the poem, not experience.

If  Lee were to encapsulate in a phrase what’s different about American haiku today, it would be “the opacity of language,” contrasted with the earlier haiku ideal of transparency of language. He said, memorably, “The ideal for me is not transparency but translucency.” This means that the haiku can be read at both the literal and deeper — metaphorical or symbolic — levels. These multiple levels add richness to haiku and make them worth keeping and adding to the English literary canon.

As Lee has been working with Scott Metz, he’s been finding that Scott also values translucency — but his haiku are more at the opaque end of the translucency spectrum, whereas Lee’s are more at the transparent end. Scott often finds more transparent poems “boring” — Lee often has the reaction “so what” to more opaque poems. Both poets, however, are beginning to open each other’s eyes to the value of ku closer to the other end of the spectrum from what they naturally prefer. (Lee entertainingly summed up his attitude: “Too opaque is not superior to too transparent, perhaps only more pretentious.”)

Lee’s goal in editing the anthology is to reflect the current state of haiku in Japan: There, three schools of haiku exist, with their own organizations and standards: the traditional, the mainstream, and the gendai (more experimental). He wants to show that something like these three schools currently exist in English language haiku as well.

Lee gave some memorable examples of experimental and mainstream haiku from current journals. From Roadrunner, the journal Scott Metz edits, he cited the following (all of which I have represented as one line; I have no idea if some actually have line breaks or where the line breaks might occur — apologies to the authors if I have misrepresented your work):

moon flower the fragrance of names

their wings like cellophane remember cellophane

his kiss deepens midnight’s throat of stars

like a mosquito or an old empire city night

where I go searching bare trees ending sentences

baby beans racing moonlight

razored through to the void raven

bird me catch me

I see the iris and its stamina and am blue

From Modern Haiku he gave these more mainstream examples (same disclaimer as before — no idea where the line breaks occur, if any):

dusk rearranging silences

small town small talk big moon

october light I open my ribs to pray

insomnia two parts doubt one part moon

a coyote’s skull reconsidering the way

when fire had sentience winter solstice

someone’s last first cicada

floating in the sonogram summer moon

sparrows pour through a blue hole into our gray world

Traditional poetry, like that of Robert Spiess, is quite easy to find in most haiku journals.

For Lee himself as a haiku poet, balance between the extremes of experimental and traditional haiku is important. He enjoys experimenting, but also sees its dangers. He cites William Ramsay from a Roadrunner essay, “How One Writes in the Haiku Moment: Mythos vs. Logos”: “The haiku that Gilbert shows as models of disjunctive technique are excellent … [but] I don’t want to write … demo haiku .. I want to write haiku” that reflect events in his life and his feelings about them.” Ramsey wants to avoid the phenomenon of “disjunctive haiku as bludgeon,” overpowering and confusing the reader.

Some of Ramsey’s own haiku, which Lee considers to achieve this balance between experimental and traditional, are:

on a white plate two figs in syrup deep winter

cool pillow stuffed with pale lives I have sloughed off

born to live I hoe and ah born to die I kiss the melon [my comment: WOW]

Lee sees an approaching bifurcation in American haiku — it will become not a single movement of like-minded poets but will be more divided into schools like the Japanese haiku movement, with journals becoming more specialized and oriented toward one school or another. He sees this development as an indication of the maturity of American haiku — leaving its adolescence behind.

Lee asks, “Haiku will survive but what will it be?” His answer: There will be a cross-fertilization between haiku and other minimalist poetry. Haiku will come to emphasize both attention to the world around us and attention to the material, the language, of the poem. Unequivocally, Lee said, “I believe this is the technique that will produce the best haiku.”

Lee does hope that the haiku of the future will not abandon completely two important elements of traditional haiku: the notion of seasons (whether of the solar year or, more metaphorically, of life), and the idea of “an invitation to the reader.” He doesn’t want haiku to lapse into narcissism or solipsism, but to reach out to its audience.

The best haiku, Lee believes, will enable us to “enrich our connection to others so that we become the best poets and the best human beings we can be.”

*
I had really been looking forward to Charles Trumbull’s talk on “Verbs in Haiku” ever since I saw the title on the program. This is because I am a big geek and really like grammar. I even got excited when Charlie announced at the beginning of his lecture, “Things will get suddenly heavy now.” Hey, I like heavy! I was not disappointed. (And once again, any idiocies in the following discussion are certainly mine and not Charlie’s.)

Charlie is actually writing a book on grammar in haiku and his talk concerned his research into the role of verbs in strengthening or weakening haiku. He started out with the question — are verbs necessary in haiku? Traditionally, haiku present two separate images, usually noun-based, so perhaps verbs can be considered optional. He presented Cor Van der Heuvel’s haiku as an example:

the shadow in the folded napkin

To answer this question, Charlie read all the previous literature on verbs in haiku (which consisted of three articles, discussed below), and also examined 200 haiku from journals in two years, 2005 and 2008. He analyzed what verbs these haiku used, if any; what tense and mood they were; whether they were active or passive, transitive or intransitive, weak or strong. He considered the role of participles and gerunds in haiku. For all these categories he presented numerous examples from his research, which were fascinating but I will mostly skip them.

There were a few concepts Charlie went into in more depth, for instance the idea, very common among traditional haiku poets, that haiku should all be in the present tense. He presented a few quotes on the subject, for instance this one by Bruce Ross: “Haiku takes place in the present. This is its special feature.” Rebecca Rust, likewise, says unequivocally, “Haiku is a record of a present moment.” Jane Reichhold offers a slightly more nuanced explanation for her preference for present-tense haiku: stories are more gripping if told in the present tense.

Charlie did find that most haiku in his sample were written in the present tense, but presented several compelling examples of ku written in other tenses:

the crow flew so fast
that he left his lonely caw
behind the fields
— Richard Wright

a woman at last!
tonight, old moon,
you will have to sleep alone.
— Jim Tipton

Charlie also discussed the use of verbs in Japanese haiku, which are often difficult to translate into English precisely:

the faces of the dolls!
though I never intended to,
I have grown old.
— Seifu-jo (tr. Blythe)

In this haiku, Charlie said, the verb in the last line indicates a completed past action and might be more accurately translated as “old age had happened” — a sudden realization of the fact of the poet’s age.

Charlie discussed the three previous articles on verbs in haiku. The first, by Ted-Larry Pebworth, disparages weak verbs in haiku, saying that “ ‘to be’ is one of the most dangerous verbs available to the haiku poet.” Charlie tends to agree, saying that in his sample he could find no uses of the verb “to be” (the copula) used to represent simple equality. “Very few respectable haiku poets use this form anymore.”

However, one acceptable reason to use the copula is to convey the idea of transformation, as in this example by Fay Aoyagi:

new year’s eve bath –
I fail to become
a swan

The second essay, by Gustave Keyser, encourages the use of strong verbs as the “key to optimum effect in haiku.” One example Keyser gives, coincidentally, is the haiku that Gayle Bull cited as her favorite by Bob Spiess during the remembrances the night before. It was written about a bush in her own yard:

of the snow that fell
some lies on a common bush
uncommonly well

Here “lies,” Keyser says, is “the precisely right verb for the mood of the poem.”

Charlie also agrees that strong verbs improve haiku and notes that the number of strong verbs increased from his 2005 to his 2008 sample.

The third essay, by Bob Spiess himself, advocates for the use of no verbs in haiku. This does not mean, Spiess says, that the haiku will not have, or need, a “verbal element,” but this function can be taken over by other words.

Charlie found that in his sample, one quarter of the haiku had no verb at all, but most did have some kind of “verbal element” obliquely indicating action. In some, a verb, whether the copula or a more active verb, seemed to be implied:

early spring walk
your hand
in my pocket
— Roberta Beary

(Here Charlie suggested that “is” is implied after “hand.”)

Nouns can also have verbal overtones:

after making love
the slow click
of her knitting needles
— Michael Overhofer

(Here “click” is a noun that implies a verb.”

Participles, obviously, can have a verbal function:

a hole
in the starling’s skull
mint gone to seed
— John Barlow

Here once again Charlie discussed the difficulty of translating haiku from the Japanese and points out that different translations of the same haiku might use a verb, a participle, or no verb at all.

To my delight, he also presented Jane Reichhold’s idea of “The Technique of Noun-Verb Exchange,” using a word that can be interpreted in the haiku as either a noun or a verb:

spring rain
the willow strings
raindrops

After all his research, Charlie feels that either a verb or some kind of verbal element is desirable in haiku — haiku that don’t have any kind of implied verb seem weaker to him. I am still thinking about whether I agree with him.

Had enough? Yeah, by this point I had too. Let’s take a break for lunch.

Innovators in English-language haiku: Gendai or not gendai…

Yesterday’s post on gendai haiku is now already my most popular post of all time, which kind of blows me away because I assumed a total of about three people would ever read it and at least two of them would hate it. This makes me think I should strike while the iron is hot and write my promised post on innovators in English-language haiku. Once again, try not to be put off by the fact that I have no idea what I’m talking about. Yes, I’m a newcomer to the haiku world, a rank amateur, probably nothing more than a poseur, but no one, at least, can accuse me of a lack of enthusiasm, which you will just have to accept in place of expertise.

A good place to start, I think, would be with a comment Scott Metz posted on troutswirl quite recently in response to the essay of Richard Gilbert’s I mentioned in another post the other day: The Morning After: Haiku Faces a New Century. Be forewarned, these are some pretty polemical remarks (as remarks by poets go). If you are not entirely sold on the whole gendai/avant-garde haiku scene, try not to be offended by them but to take them in the spirit of sincere love for haiku and the English language with which I believe Scott offers them:

“…Japanese haiku are indeed, very much so, a word-based poetry, not the enlightenment-’moment’/zen-image-sketching-experience-based mantra so many continue to espouse and cling to. … [English language haiku] are … for the most part, still, ‘slavish imitations’ of translations of what westerners *think* Japanese haiku are. Creative oversimplifications, most of which lack internal energy/dynamics. creative misreadings are cool. but i think they’ve lost their virginal glow in this case. …

“One direction i find interesting for [English language haiku] is that of symbolism and literary allusions/references being used within them, either in a mythological way, or in a more canonically literary way. knowingly or unknowingly. …

“Japanese haiku, at their root, are not simply, or only, about images at all, or moments, or ‘real/true’ experiences … but about language and culture and literature: an intricately woven rug of all these elements. …

“What also strikes me … is how strangely satisfied those writing [English language haiku] are with their nature imagery. Considering how radical Basho and his followers were about always trying to do something new and fresh with kigo, it seems a shame, and kind of mortifying, that so many writing [English language haiku] don’t try to experiment more with nature/environmental imagery. To try to turn them on their heads. To twist them. Play with them. …

“I think folks writing [English language haiku] need to play more: with images, words and techniques. and that not just western poetry/poetics should be considered and sampled, but anything and everything we can get our hands on. which is why it’s exciting to see things like ‘kire’ and ‘ma’ and vampires and sufism and gendai popping up. what can we do with these things?”

– Scott Metz, comments on troutswirl

Well…I think I should let what Scott said stand as most of the commentary here, and dedicate my efforts to displaying haiku by sundry poets that I think meet at least some of his criteria for “playing” with the haiku form, doing something “new and fresh” instead of, in Scott’s immortal words, remaining content with the “enlightenment-’moment’/zen-image-sketching-experience-based mantra.”

Whether we use the word “gendai” to refer to these poets or whether we should stick to some term more familiar to us in English like avant-garde, experimental, non-traditional, I think we can all agree that most of them are attempting something different than is espoused by the mainstream haiku movement in the English-speaking world, and closer to what gendai haiku poets in Japan are doing with the genre.

It seems logical to start with Scott himself. On his blog lakes and now wolves, Scott republishes those of his haiku that have been printed in journals. References to pop culture, politics, and current events are par for the course; so is a fresh (if sometimes somewhat obscure) use of language.  A couple of examples:

5/21/2010:

the milky way . . .
we start to discuss
Pac-Man strategies

4/17/2010:

walrus with its mouth wide open war statistics

– Scott Metz

The next obvious place to go would be Roadrunner, the haiku journal Scott edits in accordance with his preferred haiku aesthetics. Here are some examples from issue IX: 4:

second dawn the dream ghosts re-rehearsing

– John Barlow

A candle is a sweet machine

to fly across the crow-

shaped night

–  Grant Hackett

A couple of other journals frequently feature non-traditional haiku, such as Modern Haiku. Here are a couple of examples from the Autumn 2009 issue (vol. 40:3):

reading a poem
of urbane intelligence
how dead it is

– William M. Ramsey

O what the hell
haiku poet finally
kills the fly

– Le Wild


Here are some examples from the journal Notes From the Gean (vol. 2 issue 1, June 2010).


waiting
for something to happen —
The Evening Standard

– Ruth Holzer – USA

the echo of fireworksthe echo ofthe echo

not speaking the boiled egg clings to its shell

– Bob Lucky – Ethiopia

Richard Gilbert, the gendai haiku scholar I referred to extensively in my essay on that topic, also is a haiku poet himself, some of whose recent, innovative haiku appear on the website Word Riot:

dedicated to the moon

I rise

without a decent alibi


a drowning man

pulled into violet worlds

grasping hydrangea

(Publication. NOON: Journal of the Short Poem, vol. 1, Philip Rowland, ed., Tokyo: 2004, pp. 25-27.)

blood orange:

the curving radius

of sunset

(Publication. NOON: Journal of the Short Poem, vol. 6, Philip Rowland, ed., Tokyo: Summer, 2008.)

– Richard Gilbert

Fay Aoyagi is another poet doing innovative work with haiku. In my gendai haiku essay I mentioned her website Blue Willow Haiku World, on which she presents many of her English translations of Japanese gendai haiku. Her own haiku are described by David Lanoue, in his Modern Haiku essay, Something with Wings:
 Fay Aoyagi’s Haiku of Inner Landscape, as “avant-garde” and “new-style.” Following are a couple of Fay’s haiku with enlightening commentary by David from his essay:

pre-surgery dinner

tiny ocean

in the oyster shell

[Lanoue's commentary on this haiku:]

“I believe that haiku is about discovery: the deeper the feeling of discovery, the better the haiku, in my opinion. In a great haiku we sense the poet finding out something in the process of composition, not reporting on a thing that has been previously mentally digested. When Aoyagi brings us with her to the table for her pre-surgery dinner, we suspect that she has no a priori idea that the journey will take us to a tiny ocean in an oyster shell. We arrive there with her, sharing the ‘ah!-moment’ of the vision and sensing its nonlinear, non-logical connection to the poet’s (and our) interior life. Thoughts of mortality, the fear of the surgeon’s knife, a vague feeling of dread and lament … so many emotions ebb and flow in the tiny ocean in the shell. The shell on the plate is itself a post-op carcass that on closer inspection becomes a gleaming continental shelf enclosing a tiny, salty sea. Aoyagi doesn’t say what she feels about her vision, whether it comforts or terrifies her; she invites us into the intimacy of the moment to contemplate for ourselves what it might mean.”


ants out of a hole —

when did I stop playing

the red toy piano?

[David's general commentary on Fay's technique:]

“Her decision to probe her inner life is not new in haiku tradition, though few do it as well or as interestingly. The contemporary Japanese poet Hasegawa Kai (whose work Aoyagi has translated) describes the shift from outer to inner focus within a haiku as a sort of kire or “cutting.” In a interview with Richard Gilbert, Hasegawa defines zengo no kire as “The cutting which cuts a haiku from this reality within which we live — from the literal place / environment / atmosphere (‘ba’) of literal existence.” Such cutting, according to Hasegawa, entails a shift of focus from outward scenes to the “realm of the mind” — exactly Fay Aoyagi’s method.”

– Fay Aoyagi/David Lanoue, Something with Wings:
 Fay Aoyagi’s Haiku of Inner Landscape

There are a number of haiku bloggers I’ve discovered (many of whom also publish in journals, but I know their work mainly through their blogs) who, consciously or unconsciously, play with the traditional Western haiku form with interesting results. For example, John Sandbach of Crystal Dragon says, “I am deeply enamoured of the modern haiku of Japan, which, like modern art, is of many styles and energies, and which is constantly recreating itself as it unfolds. Unfortunately, the West is still primarily focused on traditional haiku and has not yet tuned in to the wonders of modern Japanese experimental artisans of this form.” Below is one of his haiku sequences:

Lettuce’s Bliss: 5 Haiku

1

To die
in a hippo’s jaws –
the lettuce’s bliss

2

Remorseful
for tearing up a violet
so I ate it

3

On T.V. a spider
liquifies a frog –
spring in Kansas City

4

In spring
a stone mason –
servant of the endless wall

5

Skin
smooth and white –
the pyramid’s youth

– John Sandbach


Nicole Hyde of the blog “noodle,” who commented on my gendai haiku post, “I’ve bought a ticket on the Gendai Haiku train too,” has some interesting examples of nontraditional haiku on her site. Since she is also a painter, her haiku often refer to art.

English Bay Lune

unbound, the English

Bay in fog –

not seen: some weird duck


Art Tiny Poem

soundless

in the night museum

Wyeth’s boots


Prairie Town

prairie town

from end to end –

one haiku

– Nicole Hyde


Alan Segal, or “Old Pajamas,” from the blog “old pajamas: from the dirt hut,” innovates in many ways, often describing what are clearly imaginary or fantasy scenes.

mourner’s kaddish
does the fly, too,
wear a yamulke?

6/2/2010

unwrapping an impossibly blue bird, flown from a castle keep

– Alan Segal


Brian Pike of paiku describes his poetry as “Haiku. More or less.” In the Q&A for his site he explains:

But aren’t haiku meant to be exactly 17 syllables long?

You’re right. They’re also meant to include a seasonal reference (kigo) and a structural break (kireji). But I’ve never been good at following rules.

If your poems don’t meet the criteria for haiku, why confuse the issue?

I like haiku. I think these are similar in mood and intention. And I quite enjoy confusion.

A few of Brian’s “paiku” follow:

10 May 2010

Blackbird waiting
For idea of cat
To go away

21 March 2010

There’s a big field
Where you can dig up
Everything you ever lost

– Brian Pike


Yi Ching-Lin of the blog y writes primarily short free verse but occasionally writes haiku, and they are generally nontraditional, as in this recent example (the link on the second line connects to Yi’s photography):

it happens daily (6 June 2010)

it happens daily
with a wounded twist
– Yi Ching-Lin

Anne Lessing, the teenage writer of the blog “Phantasma,” who is just beginning to write haiku (and intends to start a project of writing haiku daily in January 2011), has produced some very interesting haiku about zombies based on the video game “Call of Duty,” one of which I’ve reproduced below:

6/4/2010

that flower looked so pretty

so I choked it

with my child’s blood

– Anne Lessing

Finally, Elissa of The Haiku Diary writes daily haiku describing events in her life, some of which are simply quotidian or jokelike, but many of which seem to transcend the category of mere diary-entry and evoke deeper feelings and meanings.

The second of the two haiku of Elissa’s I’ve quoted below is especially interesting in light of Scott Metz’s and Richard Gilbert’s discussions of the way haiku has always been in a dialogue with the past, constantly referring back to previous poetry and other literature and history. In a way this haiku of Elissa’s, referring as it does to a famous haiku of Basho’s (“The bee emerging/from deep within the peony/departs reluctantly”), is both modern and completely classical — so it seems like an appropriate place to bring this post to an end. Hope it was a fun ride.

Front and Center, June 8, 2010

Closing my eyes and

swaying with the music makes

me that girl, but so what?


I literally

watched a bumble bee stumble

out of a peony!

– Elissa of The Haiku Diary

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.

Haiku in English: Discuss

A few days ago the blog of The Haiku Foundation, troutswirl*, posted a fascinating essay by Richard Gilbert called “The Morning After: Haiku Faces a New Century.” It examines the difference between haiku in Japanese and in English and reconsiders the perennial question of whether it’s appropriate to use the term “haiku” for English poetry at all. The comments the blog readers have left on the essay are at least as interesting as the essay itself — lots of great ideas swirling around out there, about what haiku in English is or should be or should become.

You may or may not care about any of these ideas. But I wanted to quote for you just this one paragraph from the essay, because it is so wonderful to read and to think about. (Maybe it’s just me. I like lists of things.)

When the best English haiku are examined in terms of language issues, it is possible to observe what it is usually not: not directly philosophizing, ornamental, rhyming, discursive, narrative, verbose, dialogic, ruminative, bald, simple, talkative, casual, loose, long, rambling, or challenging as to vocabulary. Haiku in English is often minimally brief, semantically enfolded, clever, surprising, resistant, collocationally unusual or unique, mysterious, suggestive, humorous, clashing, disjunctive, irruptive, rhythmic, imagistic, sensual, and has a readily understandable vocabulary.

– Richard Gilbert, The Morning After: Haiku Faces a New Century

*If you haven’t taken a look at troutswirl yet, and if you have any interest in lively discussions of practical and theoretical matters pertaining to haiku-writing, you definitely should spend some time there.