prairie burning if it were spoken aloud
My kindergarten teacher was worried about me because I liked to read. In those days kindergarteners were supposed to occupy themselves only with playing, and socializing, and coloring in the letters of the alphabet on worksheets just to familiarize themselves with the shapes that they would be introduced to more thoroughly in first grade. But I could already read and I was tantalized by the books on the shelves behind the teacher’s desk, which she read aloud to us before naptime. When the teacher’s back was turned I scrambled up on a stepstool and grabbed books and ran off with them to a corner to devour them before she could find me and take the books away and scold me for reading and send me back to play with dolls or something else I had no interest in. I felt like a criminal. I felt like a rebel. I felt like a five-year-old who was sick with love for stories and kept having her heart broken, day after day, by never being able to find out what the ending was.
Sometimes I dreamed the endings. Sometimes I wonder whether my own endings or the real ones were more satisfying.
first day of school —
out of time to decipher
the cicada’s drone
Haiku, Tanka, Haiga From All Over
I broke one of my own unwritten rules this edition. I usually try not to feature more than one poem per poet per edition, but I nearly went mad deciding which of the below three haiku by Johannes S.H. Bjerg I should include, so in the end I said the hell with it and decided to inflict them all on you. Please address any complaints to my alter ego, Ms. I.N. DeCision.
still air -
will a dead butterfly
become a butterfly?
stille luft -
vil en død sommerfugl
blive til en sommerfugl?
— Johannes S.H. Bjerg, 2 tongues/2 tunger
swallows leaving youshouldhavesaidsomething
svalerne forsvinder duskullehavesagtnoget
– Johannes S.H. Bjerg, 2 tongues/2 tunger
yoshino cherry tree—
it was never a question
— Johannes S. H. Bjerg, Tinywords
high heat index–
my mosquito bite
the size of a fat raindrop
— Kathy Nguyen, Origami Lotus Stones
off key crooning
in the darkness:
a neighbor braces for fall
— Gene Myers, genemyers.com
All I can do
is point and say
— Kris Lindbeck, haiku etc.
sugar crystals travelling
— Stella Pierides, Stella Pierides
eastern daylight time
(this is a wonderful haiga; please go check it out)
— Angie Werren, feathers
from the beginning –
the moon &
love note after love note
— Patricia Nelson, Moon Viewing Party, Haiku Bandit Society
hiroshima ya tamago kû toki kuchi hiraku
to eat an egg
I open my mouth
– Sanki Saito, translated by Fay Aoyagi, Blue Willow Haiku World
Fay’s Note: This haiku does not have a kigo, but it is one of 8 haiku titled ‘Famous City’ by Sanki Saito (1900-1962). Soon after an atomic bomb was dropped in Hiroshima, Sanki visited the city. When he started to eat a boiled egg for lunch, he noticed that was the first time he opened his mouth that day. He had been speechless with what he saw.
wet rain . . .
you keep telling me things
i already know
[Modern Haiku 40.1]
— David Caruso, DavidHaiku.com
Web Wide World
I’m just going to snap a bunch of links at you real quick like a bunny with a minimum of commentary because, you know, school’s starting soon and I should be doing stuff like buying textbooks and notebooks and sharpening my pencils and polishing shiny red apples to put on the desks of all my professors on the first day so they will be favorably disposed toward me and hopefully forgive me for scribbling haiku in the margins of all my notebooks around my notes on Electronic Resource Management. Ready? Here we go.
A Brief Survey of Senryu by Women, by Hiroaki Sato
This essay, published in Modern Haiku 34.1 in spring 2003, first makes a quick stab at trying to define how senryu differs from haiku, with a note that “the senryû is expected to deal with matters of human and social nature, often in a playful, satirical, or knowing manner” but also acknowledging that the line between haiku and senryu these days can be blurry in the extreme. Most of the piece, however, is taken up by samples of modern (mainly twentieth century) senryu by Japanese women, which are absolutely fascinating — not least because many of them make no attempt to be funny at all, in fact can be quite serious, and I suspect would not be considered senryu by most American haiku poets. They are powerful, compelling poetry, however, and I keep coming back to read them over and over. They seem to me to painfully and eloquently express the difficulties and limitations of many women’s lives.
The moment it blooms with full force it’s cut
– Inoue Noboku
The snow’s falling the snow’s falling these two breasts
– Kuwano Akiko
He leaves and I put away the lonesome sound
– Saigo Kanojo
Okay, so here’s something that’s genuinely funny. One workshop I was sorry I had to miss at Haiku North America was Jessica Tremblay’s session about her well-known “Old Pond” comics based on haiku. The next best thing, though, was discovering that Jessica had drawn a series of strips about her experiences at HNA. I laughed and laughed with recognition at so many of these and if you were there, or have read my reports from the conference, I guarantee you will get at least a chuckle out of them as well.
Another HNA connection: After I saw Eve Luckring’s amazing presentation on video renku at HNA I came home and Googled her straight off because I had to know more about her work, and discovered her astounding website, filled with her photography, short films, art, and poetry, which are often combined in wildly imaginative and original ways. Please go explore, you’ll be happy you did.
A funny and fascinating article by Marlene Mountain on English haiku poetics vis-a-vis Japanese haiku poetics made the rounds of Facebook a couple of weeks ago, provoking lots of interesting discussion: The Japanese Haiku and So On, first published at Paul Conneally’s haikumania (which is worth a look around) in 2004.
re zen. whatever.
– Marlene Mountain
If you haven’t discovered the “Montage” archive at The Haiku Foundation website, you need to run right over there and check it out…for about nine months in 2009 Allan Burns put together this fascinating weekly gallery of haiku, each week featuring haiku by three different poets on a different theme. The whole thing has been turned into a book now which can be yours for a $50 donation to The Haiku Foundation, but while you’re saving up for that, you can download each week’s gallery as a PDF and enjoy yourself mightily reading some amazing poetry.
Charlotte DiGregorio is the Midwest Regional Coordinator for the Haiku Society of America, which is my region and so I get to benefit from her energy and organizational ability as she organizes so many enjoyable and successful events for us here in flyover land. She also has a blog on which she posts many interesting musings about haiku. Quite often she invites audience participation and recently she sent out an email soliciting answers to the question, “Why do you write haiku?” The answers she got back were thoughtful, often funny, usually thought-provoking, and all over the map: well worth reading. Check them out.
Roadrunner published a new issue a couple of weeks ago, which besides being, as usual, one of the most thought-provoking reads in the Haikuverse, is also graphically appealing this time around. Every ku is enclosed in a box with a background of a different color and with a different typeface, and with the author’s name left off — only to appear at the end of the issue in a box matching the color and typeface of his or her contribution(s). (Full disclosure: I have a ku in this issue, in a highly appropriate color, but I’m not gonna tell you what it is.)
I don’t usually think of myself as someone who is overly influenced by the famous “fourth line” in haiku, but I was amazed at how different an experience it was to read these poems without knowing who had written them. I had to force myself not to keep scrolling to the end to read those names. But I ended up wishing that more journals would do something similar. See how you feel.
And finally, here’s an announcement for what promises to be an exciting new online journal, A Hundred Gourds:
The editorial team of ‘A Hundred Gourds’ welcomes your submissions to our first issue, which will be published online in December, 2011. ’A Hundred Gourds’ is a new journal featuring haiku, haibun, haiga, tanka, resources (articles, commentaries, reviews and interviews) and special artwork. ’A Hundred Gourds’ is managed by its editorial team: Lorin Ford, Melinda Hipple, John MacManus, Gene Murtha and Ray Rasmussen. Ron Moss will continue to support us in his valuable role of contributing and consulting artist. We are dedicated to producing a high quality journal, and look forward to your submissions. Books for review (hard copy only) may be sent to John McManus or the haiku, tanka, haiga or haibun editor respectively.
Submissions for the first issue of ‘A Hundred Gourds’ close on September 15th, 2011. Submissions and enquires may be addressed to : Lorin Ford, Haiku Editor: firstname.lastname@example.org ; Melinda Hipple, Haiga Editor: email@example.com ; John McManus, Resources Editor: firstname.lastname@example.org ; Gene Murtha, Tanka Editor: email@example.com ; Ray Rasmussen, Haibun Editor: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
Dead Tree News
Once again, lots of print, little time.
Journals: Bottle Rockets, Ribbons
I love both these journals and you should too and here are some examples of why:
From Bottle Rockets 25:
was it the dark
or the candle
— Susan Marie La Vallee
wet bike seat
must be a poem
— Lucas Stensland
here with me distant train
— John Hawk
a low stone wall
neatly topped with snow
— Bruce Ross
on the concrete path
very still with ants crawling
over my skin I did feel loved
— Joey Jenkins
And also in this issue of Bottle Rockets, you must read the wonderful anthology/essay by Michael Fessler, Remarkable Haiku, a collection of the author’s favorite haiku with trenchant commentary on what makes them so memorable for him.
From Ribbons 7:2, Summer 2011:
outside, the crickets
continue to sing,
though they would
never think of it
— Rosemary Wahtola Trommer
oh the places
rather than go
straight to the place
we’re all going
— John Stevenson
snow melt —
watching the world
— Paul Smith
Books: Beyond the Reach of My Chopsticks (Fay Aoyagi); Where I Leave Off/Waar Ik Ophoud (Jim Kacian); Penguins/Pingviner (Johannes S.H. Bjerg)
I’m slowly working my way through the stacks of haiku books I bought this summer: first at Gayle Bull’s amazing bookshop in Mineral Point, Wis., The Foundry Books, which may have the best haiku book selection in the United States and is, terrifyingly, located only an hour from my house; second at Haiku North America. I’ll start with a couple of little books (little only in the physical sense) because somehow that makes them seem less intimidating, although on the inside they are as big as any haiku book ever written.
Fay Aoyagi’s third collection of poetry, Beyond the Reach of My Chopsticks, is as thrilling as her first two, Chrysanthemum Love (2003) and In Borrowed Shoes (2006), and is even more thrilling for the fact that it includes extensive excerpts from both these books as well as a large selection of new poetry. Fay manages to employ fairly traditional haiku aesthetics — kigo, kire — in the service of extremely striking and original images and ideas, often funny and subversive.
another day without
steals my pen
he criticizes my graceless use
in the pool
she sheds everything
she wants to shed
a plum tree
in its third trimester
– Fay Aoyagi
Jim Kacian’s Where I Leave Off is both a collection of one-line haiku and an examination of the poetics of one-line haiku: When and why do they work? He briefly describes various one-line techniques (these were also the subject of the talk by Jim I attended at HNA) and gives numerous striking examples from his own work.
1. “One-line one-thought”: “Rather than a piling up of images upon the imagination, a single image is extended or elaborated into a second context, stated or implied.”
reading the time-travel novel into the next day
– Jim Kacian
2. “Sheer speed”: “The rushing of image past the imagination results in a breathless taking in of the whole…”
in this way coming to love that one
– Jim Kacian
3. “Multiple kire”: “The advantage of one-line poems is that any of several stops can be made by the reader, and a different stop each time.”
where the smoke from a chimney ends infinity
– Jim Kacian
4. And then there’s “one-bun”: “a haibun where the prose element must be contained in a single line.”
the second week
traveling by myself i cross the continental divide, and everything that once ran in one way now runs in another, down and down
on the surface of dark water my face
– Jim Kacian
When Johannes S.H. Bjerg’s (yes, him again) new chapbook, Penguins/Pingviner, appeared in our mailbox last week, there was much rejoicing in our household, since we are all both rabid penguin fans (no, not fans of rabid penguins, for goodness’ sake) and also staunch Johannes fans. So we sat around the kitchen table reading and laughing and musing philosophically. Go ahead, try it.
on the backside
of the moon
the need for bridges
of chrome and sugar
no respect for
in softdrink vending machines
hole in the sky
penguins knead a blue scarf
into a human
in all things flying
– Johannes S.H. Bjerg
And on that note… I think I’m going to drift off to sleep now, off to the far reaches of the Haikuverse, where the penguins fly and no one ever makes you stop reading just when you get to the good part. You’re welcome to join me, that is, when you’ve finished reading everything I tell you to. What, you thought you were gonna get out of doing your homework? Think again, kids.
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 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.
– 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.
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)
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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
— Issa, translated by David Lanoue
Here’s David, being thoughtful.
… 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)
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 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.
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.
Yes, this is the thirteenth edition of the Haikuverse and it is appearing on the thirteenth of February. But don’t worry, nothing can possibly go wrong! I’m a very experienced tour guide and I’ve never lost a passenger yet. Just don’t touch that red button over there on the control panel marked “Eject.” Got that? Okay, I’m gonna count you all at the end to make sure one of you didn’t give in to your curiosity. (Haiku poets, like cats, are notorious for their curiosity.)
I’m feeling a little bumptious tonight because I just got back from a great meeting of the Midwest Regional Chapter of the Haiku Society of America. It was wonderful seeing other haiku poets in person, which I very rarely do, although of course I adore interacting with all you people on the blog and via email and Facebook and Twitter … man, I love living in a time when such things are possible. But real live human beings are impossible to resist, even when you have to drive three hours one way to go see them.
Sadly, I overslept (up too late writing haiku again) and got slightly lost a couple of times on the way there, so I missed Charlotte DiGregorio‘s presentation on haiku for beginners, which I would have liked to hear because I am always trying to figure out good ways to explain haiku to beginners myself. But I did catch superlative presentations by Heather Jagman on Issa (you may think I already know a bit about Issa, but believe me, Heather knows more) and by Michael Nickels-Wisdom on the highly original Wisconsin poet Lorine Niedecker, whose collected works I have made a note to buy very soon. (I should write more about these talks later when I don’t have three thousand other words to write.)
And, of course, I saw a lot of the fantastic people I met at the “Cradle of American Haiku” conference last September (Charlotte and Heather among them), and met a lot of new fantastic people. A bunch of us had lunch together afterwards. It was weird to be at a whole long table full of haiku poets, but fun. I guess I should get out more.
Anyway. You would really rather read good poetry than my incoherent ramblings about my inadequate social life, wouldn’t you? Fine. The tour will now commence. Don’t touch the red button.
Haiku (Haibun, Haiga, Etc.) Of the Week
The usual disclaimers apply. A random and eccentric sampling of haiku that gave me the shivers in the last couple of weeks.
Note: It was really hard these last couple of weeks because NaHaiWriMo has increased everyone’s output so considerably, and so much of that output is so good. Tons of it is on Facebook, tons of it is on Twitter. Some people (I love these people, even though I’m not one of them) are keeping it on their blogs. I made the executive decision not to feature any of the NaHaiku that exist only on social media sites, because there would be no end to it if I started to copy-paste every single haiku I’ve “liked” on Facebook or retweeted on Twitter in the last two weeks. I would have a nervous breakdown, and you don’t want to see what that looks like.
Another note: I know it seems like I feature the same people here over and over again. That’s because I kind of do. Please don’t think I don’t know that there are about ten thousand more fantastic haiku poets in the world than the ones that keep showing up on this blog. But these are mostly the ones who keep blogs themselves, blogs that a) I’ve managed to discover (feel free to send me URLs of any haiku blogs you love that you don’t think I’ve discovered); b) I love to pieces, so I really can’t help wanting everyone else to love them too.
I do try to honor and pass around the work of poets who don’t keep blogs in various other ways — by, as I mentioned, showing my appreciation on Facebook and Twitter, and by singling out in this column my favorite haiku published in journals. (See this week’s “Dead Tree News,” for instance.) Again, let me know about any journals or other publications I’ve missed. Keeping up with the frantic and increasing activity in every corner of the Haikuverse would be a full-time job if I let it be. I welcome reports from correspondents in areas I may not have traveled heavily.
From The Spider Tribe’s Blog (an excerpt from a “tanka sonnet”):
the first splash
of ewe’s milk…
– Claire Everett
geese ignore the sound
of my phone
— Angie Werren
From Haiku Bandit Society:
an empty screen;
a crow’s broad wings
disappear into glass
— William Sorlien
(And while you’re over there, make sure you check out this great haibun of Willie’s.)
Speaking of haibun, there was one I loved at Heed Not Steve recently. Here’s the haiku:
an icy breeze
whistling through bare limbs
— Steve Mitchell
An “after” from Bill Kenney at haiku-usa:
having looked at it
I wash my face
– Etsujin 1656-1739
From scented dust:
stacking pills too round
– Johannes S.H. Bjerg
From season creep:
the sound of rain
– Comrade Harps
I cradle a bowl
of steamed rice
– Aubrie Cox
From zen speug:
on the snowdrops
– John McDonald
the children’s laughter
rise in the air
– Alegria Imperial
(By the way, lately Alegria has been writing some really fascinating meditations on her own haiku and the writing of haiku in general. Wander around over there and take a look at some of them.)
exactement les mêmes
qu’à ma naissance
exactly the same
as the day i was born
(By the way, a lot of people wrote me great haiku for my birthday, many of them on this very blog. They were amazing gifts. Thanks, Bill and Rick and Alegria.)
From Blue Willow Haiku World:
春浅し旧姓で待つ上野駅 森 裕子
haru asashi kyûsei de matsu ueno-eki
with my maiden name
I wait at Ueno Station
– Yuko Mori, translated by Fay Aoyagi
From The Perpetual Bird:
stars coming back
that were never gone
– Joseph Hutchinson
From A Lousy Mirror, a fascinating online publication by Robert D. Wilson:
dry wheat grass . . .the whiteness ofa child dying– Robert D. Wilson
From see haiku here: a wonderful haiga based on this haiku –
a cuckoo’s flight –
the emperor’s city of Heian
Kuniharu wrote the following fascinating commentary about this haiga, which will make no sense to you if you don’t go look at the haiga, people.
“Hototogisu, or cuckoo, is the kigo of summer, so this haiku is about the season. But what interests me is the word ‘diagonally.’
The city of Heian is a planned city, modeled after old Chinese capital city; the streets are just like in the haiga, in rigid lattice. And this lattice shape corrisponds to the ritual manner also. Many formal ceremonies took place at the emperor’s palace. One basic rule of human movements in the formal ritual is that you never move diagonally, they should be always right-angled. …
Knowing all these, our appreciation of the word ‘diagonally’ deepens more. Cuckoo is so free, free from all the rigidness and restraints in human world, which culminates at the emperor’s city.”
– Kuniharu Shimizu
I can’t reproduce this here, but you absolutely have to go take a look at it. Scott Metz put together an interactive graphic that reveals some “found haiku” in poetry of Whitman and Thoreau. It’s stunning.
This isn’t directly about haiku, but if you like haiku I’m pretty sure you’ll like this. (Your money back if not completely satisfied.)
A while back I mentioned in this column my sadness at the fact that David Marshall was giving up his five-year-old haiku streak. Well, I’ve been finding my grief easier to bear since starting to follow his prose blog, Signals to Attend. David’s writing itself is beautiful — clear and concrete and at the same time lyrical and original — but even more important, what he writes about is in my view urgently worth writing about (I’m talking about a big-picture kind of urgency, not a news-at-ten kind of urgency).
One of his recent essays, “Making Scenes,” seems especially valuable for haiku writers (and other human beings, but this is at least theoretically a haiku blog). He starts out by saying simply, “I like to think about what people are doing right now,” and gives a list of examples — “a seventh-grade girlfriend talking to her new son-in-law,” “a former student hanging a print in a narrow apartment powder room.” People he knows, people he doesn’t know, mostly all doing the kind of mundane things we do all day that make up the vital texture of our lives. “[A] sort of peace,” David writes, “settles in me when I imagine everyone okay.” On News at Ten, after all, something terrible is always happening to someone. But something terrible is not happening to most of us most of the time. If you take the time to look around the world at what people are doing, you’ll mostly find them at a myriad of ordinary activities.
Then David jumps straight from the daily routines of humanity into poetry — in particular, Walt Whitman. “Little moments,” David says, “populate [Whitman's] poems,” moments that are “companionable, reaffirming people flow in one river that, at least in our daily lives, moves in similar ways to the same sea.” He quotes Whitman on the universality of human experience across time and space:
“I am with you, you men and women of a generation, or ever so many generations hence; …
Just as you feel when you look on the river and sky, so I felt;
Just as any of you is one of a living crowd, I was one of a crowd;
Just as you are refresh’d by the gladness of the river and the bright flow, I was refresh’d; …”
This amazing verse of Whitman’s ramps up the reader’s expectations, and David doesn’t let them down in the final paragraph of his essay. He wonders if technology is really helping us to empathize with each other or is further emphasizing our tendencies toward individuality and solipsism. After all, he reminds us, “we have imagination. Why can’t we see how closely other lives parallel our own, how, at any instant, we are all acting in the same scenes?”
To me, this is what poets do, or at least should do. They use the power of a sympathetic imagination to place themselves in the situation of another human being, to see the world from another person’s point of view, to figure out what makes other people tick. Maybe this is part of why, when people talk about the necessity of haiku faithfully reflecting our personal experience, it troubles me slightly. Obviously there isn’t anything wrong with reporting our own experience in poetry — sharing our experiences is one of the things that helps other people imagine what it’s like to be us. But we have to return the favor. We have to remember that we’re part of the wide river of humanity, and try to place ourselves in context in that stream by looking around us and thinking about what’s going on in the lives and hearts of other people.
Dead Tree News
A couple more print journals came in the mail for me this week. One was the venerable Modern Haiku, which has been around for several decades now and is going stronger than ever under the editorship of Charles Trumbull. The other was the very-recently-started, but already well-established, tanka journal Moonbathing, which features exclusively tanka by women and is edited by Pamela A. Babusci. (I wrote more about Moonbathing in Haikuverse no. 11, with information about how to contact Pamela for submission and subscription information.)
Modern Haiku 42:1, featuring the stunning Eagle Nebula on the cover (I know what it is because my physics-major husband told me, not because I have a nebula-classifying hobby — not that there’s anything wrong with that!), is full of so many things — haiku and senryu, haibun, haiga, essays, book reviews, news — that getting through it all has eaten up much of my free-reading time for the last week or so. I cannot possibly tell you all the things that impressed me in here. I will say that I thought the haibun selection was outstanding, and I am very picky about haibun. Then there were the haiku … okay, you’ve been patient, here’s a ridiculously small selection of the juicy stuff:
— Joyce Clement
nothing more to say —
of an axe at sundown
I read aloud
the part about the rabbit hole …
— Sari Grandstaff
How can one write
This ceaseless rain
Makes everything inseparable
— M Hasan
— Mark F. Harris
father’s day —
an airplane flies us over
the fault line
— Michael Meyerhofer
as if I should be happy
to hear from her
— Christopher Patchel
back from the war
all his doors
— Bill Pauly
in an urn
if only she knew
its pear shape
— George Swede
Wisst ihr wie bald wir
do you know how soon
we will die?
— Dietmar Tauchner
I am still trying to figure out tanka. I’m getting there, I think. But I still have a reflexive feeling much of the time when I read tanka that they are overgrown haiku that need to be pruned. Tanka aren’t just long haiku, of course, they have different aims than haiku — they’re much more personal, much more about feelings — so it’s not fair to judge them by haiku standards. And I did enjoy a great deal of what I read in Moonbathing. For instance(s):
scatter fallen leaves
– Marilyn Humbert
the illegitimate child –
I imagine turning up
on their doorstep
in a bright red beret
– Angela Leuck
a gray cloud
through the window
when I close my eyes
a single cry of migrating birds
– Sasa Vazic
Ready to cry uncle yet? (So often that’s people’s response to my helpful attempts to educate and reform them. Baffling.) Okay, I’ll open the hatch in just a moment, but first I want to know … did anyone press the red button? Anyone? Anyone?
No one? Okay, I guess my perfect record stands intact. No one yet has died of reading too much haiku. Not on my watch, anyway. And I have just scientifically proven that there is nothing unlucky about the number thirteen. Relax. Go write a nice little poem.
I’ve been feeling lately like I need to share some of the amazing haiku (and other short-form verse) and writing about haiku that other people post on the Interwebs. After all, this blog for me is not just about having a forum to post my own haiku, it’s about developing a community of people who are learning about and sharing their knowledge and appreciation of haiku with each other.
I follow a few dozen haiku blogs on a regular basis, some by quite well-known haiku poets and some by haiku poets who deserve to be much better known. I also read haiku journals and haiku essays and informational sites about haiku, and I follow a bunch of haiku poets on Twitter (also occasionally post stuff there that I don’t post here, in case you’re interested — my username is myyozh), and I am a member of a few different haiku-related groups on Facebook. (And oh, yeah — sometimes I read haiku-related things on pieces of dead tree, too.) There is always enough new and exciting stuff in all these places to keep me interested and inspired. So I think on a weekly (or so) basis I’ll let you know what has stuck with me, or challenged me, or stopped me short and made me glad to be alive. I hope some of what I share does something similar for some of you.
(N.B.: I’m limiting myself to what has been posted, or what I have discovered, in the last week or so. You have to draw the line somewhere. And this got way longer than I expected even with that constraint. That being said … if you find something haiku-related this week that you think others would enjoy, send me the URL and I may post it in my next version of this feature.)
For this All Souls’ Eve, Margaret Dornaus, over at Haiku-doodle, has posted a great selection of haiku that pay tribute to loved ones who have passed away. (The haiku for my father that I wrote for his birthday earlier this week is one of them.) It’s worth taking a look at them. I mean, not only are the haiku worth reading, but Margaret has an actual ability to do layout (the bane of my existence), which means they are literally worth looking at.
As usual I found all kinds of treasures this week at Fay Aoyagi’s Blue Willow Haiku World, including her translations of the Japanese haiku autumn wind, still lonely (which I think must be a riff on Basho’s famous haiku about the autumn road along which no one is passing), and holding my knees. Also, Fay’s own haiku Halloween.
David Marshall’s Haiku Streak is one of the first haiku blogs I started reading and still one of those I enjoy the most. He writes a daily haiku; they are often surreal, always utterly original — he has his own inimitable style which is not quite like anyone else’s. This week I found myself drawn to “The New Apocalypse.”
Issa’s Sunday Service at Issa’s Untidy Hut (the blog of The Lilliput Review) is one of the highlights of my week. It combines rock music (including embedded audio), haiku (always including one by my man Issa!), other poetry, and literary and philosophical musings to create a mind-altering experience. This week’s song is Bob Dylan’s “As I Went Out This Morning”; Tom Paine’s Common Sense is mentioned in the context of the upcoming midterm elections; there are a couple of great autumn-related poems; and the Issa haiku about cherry blossoms is going on my list of all-time favorites. Added bonus: Check out the jukebox in the sidebar that enables you to play all the songs from all 76 Sunday Services.
I just got around to downloading the most recent issue of Roadrunner (X:3, issued in September) and all kinds of wild ku are now spinning through my head, including Peter Yovu’s wonderful
the night heron’s cry
your left elbow slightly
sharper than your right
Notes from the Gean also published its most recent issue in September and I have been revisiting it more or less weekly since then. This journal publishes a lot of haiku (and tanka, haiga, haibun, renga) and it’s hard to absorb it all at once. Right now I’m very fond of Chen-ou Liu’s one-line haiku:
single married single again a rushing river
And I also think it would be worth your while to read Zane Parks’s haibun “Ain’t No Sunshine.”
I found a lot to think about in Susan Antolin’s essay on her blog Artichoke Season about what makes a “good” poem. (If you go there, you should also spend some time reading Susan’s wonderful haiku and haibun.)
Curtis Dunlap’s Blogging Along Tobacco Road has a great feature called “Three Questions” in which the same three questions are posed to a wide variety of haiku poets, which provides a fascinating look at their varied motivations for writing haiku and understandings of what haiku is. This week the featured poet is Aubrie Cox, a college student who is already a fine haiku poet (and whom I met at Mineral Point and have spent some time batting around ideas about haiku and other literature since then).
If you are on Facebook, I highly recommend joining the pages (or liking them, or whatever the heck it is they call it these days) “haiku now” and “The Haiku Foundation,” where there is almost always some kind of lively discussion of some aspect of haiku going on and where haiku poets from all over share their work and comment on others’. The Haiku Foundation has a regular, weekly-or-so feature where they ask members to contribute a haiku on a particular theme — the current one is “water.” It’s fascinating to see all the different riffs on the topic.
Also on Facebook: Michael Dylan Welch has just come up with the brilliant idea of NaHaiWriMo, a takeoff on NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month that is starting tomorrow (and that I have, probably unwisely, signed up to participate in, because I don’t have enough to do, I guess.) NaHaiWriMo, naturally, calls for participants to write one haiku a day for a month, in this case the mercifully short month of February. You can join the group now, though, and start commiserating with your fellow participants several months ahead of time.
Via Facebook I have recently become an admirer of the haiku of Vincent Hoarau, who writes primarily in French but frequently translates his haiku into English for the benefit of the non-Francophones among us. I find that my high-school French (as well as the services of a good French-English dictionary) is just sufficient to allow me to enjoy the rhythms of Vincent’s French haiku, such as the one he posted on Facebook yesterday without translation (but I am not going to attempt to translate for you lest I completely embarrass myself):
dans la paleur de l’aube
un peu perdue
Dead-tree news: From the Everyman’s Library Haiku, which I have been slowly making my way through, several verses have been resonating with me this week (all translations by the not-necessarily-accurate but stylistically pleasant R.H. Blyth):
That is poor at jumping,
All the more charming.
A cage of fireflies
For the sick child:
The beginning of autumn,
By the red dragonfly.
Between the moon coming out
And the sun going in —
The red dragonflies.
Made me measure it
With my fan.
Having cut the peony,
I felt dejected
From what flowering tree
I know not,
But ah, the fragrance!
The flowers are easy to paint,
The leaves difficult.
That looks like a white cat,
Is also a votive flower.
As if nothing had happened,
And the willow.
And that’s the Haikuverse for this week. See you again soon.
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:
the milky way . . .
we start to discuss
walrus with its mouth wide open war statistics
– Scott Metz
second dawn the dream ghosts re-rehearsing
– John Barlow
A candle is a sweet machine
to fly across the crow-
– Grant Hackett
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
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
without a decent alibi
a drowning man
pulled into violet worlds
(Publication. NOON: Journal of the Short Poem, vol. 1, Philip Rowland, ed., Tokyo: 2004, pp. 25-27.)
the curving radius
(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:
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:
in a hippo’s jaws –
the lettuce’s bliss
for tearing up a violet
so I ate it
On T.V. a spider
liquifies a frog –
spring in Kansas City
a stone mason –
servant of the endless wall
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.
unbound, the English
Bay in fog –
not seen: some weird duck
soundlessin the night museum
from end to end –
– 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.
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:
For idea of cat
To go away
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 dailywith 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:
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.
Closing my eyes and
swaying with the music makes
me that girl, but so what?
watched a bumble bee stumble
out of a peony!
– Elissa of The Haiku Diary
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
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:
realizing death as one color
in the snowy kiosk
for sale .?
–[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
water of spring
as water wetted
water, as is
–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
– Saito Sanki
leaving a withered tree
being shot as a withered tree
– Sugimura Seirinshi
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:
he comes and whispers
in a dancer’s ear
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
I prefer a comic play
with a quiet plot
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
– 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
– 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.