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7th Sailing

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. . . 7th Sailing . . .

By Peter Yovu

What Is Your Response to Gendai Haiku?

This “Sailing” will take many of us (I include myself) out of our comfort zone and into exotic waters. The word gendai itself may be enough to send ripples through our haiku foundations, but it simply means “modern.” Just as 20th century Western poetry went through numerous trials and transformations, so did 20th century Japanese haiku. These changes, in each case, were both a response to the old (not necessarily a rejection of it) and a willingness to meet the provocations of a challenging new era, which many felt demanded a new poetry, a revitalized haiku.

In his review of The Haiku Universe for the 21st Century [“Reboot”] (MH 40.3), Scott Metz quotes Masaoka Shiki: “Haiku advances . . . only when it departs from the traditional style.” I am not scholar enough to surmise how far Shiki would have been willing to take this departure, but I will guess that he would have been surprised, at the least, to discover the directions that his disciples and those who followed would take. Certainly a departure from realism, as various movements embraced subjectivity, politics, surrealism, feminism, disjunction and other literary techniques rarely encountered before. Some schools promoted the writing of haiku without kigo, a movement many writers in the West have also explored.

Here are some examples. The first will be familiar to readers of Troutswirl:

like squids
bank clerks are fluorescent
from the morning

Kaneko Tōta (trans. Makoto Ueda)

autumn nightfall
the skeleton of a huge fish
is drawn out to sea

Saito Sanki (trans. by Gendai Haiku Kyokai)

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)

Illness in one eye:
I’m walking
like a goldfish

Ban’ya Natsuishi
(trans. by Ban’ya Natsuishi & Jack Galmitz)

The Gendai Haiku Kyokai (Modern Haiku Association) was founded in 1947. By 1961, I learn from Scott’s review, it was open to “all kinds of haiku styles, including the traditional style . . . nonseasonal haiku and free form.” This, to a greater or lesser extent, is a policy followed by several of our better known publications, not excluding Modern Haiku and Frogpond, but especially Roadrunner and, now, with its haiku section edited by Richard Gilbert, Simply Haiku. Both champion the exploration of new directions in haiku, not necessarily centered on gendai, but certainly encouraged by it.

So, what is your response to this new presence in our lives?

You may recall that Christopher White posted a question (the question, in fact, that prompted me to launch this Sailing) which I will alter slightly to suit our purposes here: “A question I have is whether people feel that gendai haiku contain the standard Japanese aesthetic values or not. I ask this not in order to lay judgment on it—quite the opposite in fact: I’m interested in seeing what it has to say about haiku.”

As always, a number of questions arise from within these central questions. How useful is a study of, or at least exposure to, gendai haiku for you? In what ways? Do you seek new directions for your writing and reading? Is it important to continue looking to Japan for inspiration and education? (I hope to broaden this question of influence in a future Sailing).

It is a concern that some readers, believing they have not had enough exposure to modern Japanese haiku, will feel left out of this discussion. For those to whom it is new, (I include myself), I hope this Sailing will serve as an entry point, and offer directions for further exploration. For this reason, I am especially hopeful that readers who have more familiarity will present examples of work which they feel is significant, educational, or intriguing.

Three excellent sources of information, with many examples of gendai, can be found here:

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Sails is a section of troutswirl that is devoted to presenting questions for discussion and debate on the nature and possibilities of haiku. Sails is overseen by Peter Yovu. For an introduction to this section, see Sails.

This Post Has 106 Comments

  1. They say if you sit in the same seat twice in the Church of Scotland it becomes a tradition. However, someone one threw a stool at the minister many years ago and things changed for a while but what was new then soon became assimulated into the church. Haiku is a broad church.

    Colin Stewart Jones

  2. “I have learnt that *calling* fireflies was common practice!
    Lorin”

    There is an old children’s song about it

    ホッ、ホッ、ほ-たるこい、あっちのみ-ずはに-がいぞ、
    こっち のみ-ずはあ-まいぞ、ホッホッ、ほ-たるこい

    ho ho hotaru koi

    Hey, fireflies, come here!
    The water over there is bitter.
    The water here is so sweet,
    so come here, please, fireflies.

    .

  3. Allan writes:

    “Buddhism constitutes a major part of the cultural background from which haiku emerged, and I believe it would have taken a quite different form but for that background. Among other things, Buddhism has helped give haiku its philosophical depth. In terms of technique and subjects, haiku was also definitely influenced in significant ways by the work of pre-haiku Buddhist poets such as Wang Wei and Saigyō, whose work tends to be imagistic, nature-oriented, and self-effacing.”

    Allan suggests a strand that weaves through the words of Wang Wei and Saigyo and Basho down through haikai and haiku to the present day. Is it a vital strand? I can say I feel its influence in much of my favorite work, from J.W. Hackett’s:

    Half of the minnows
    within this sunlit shallow
    are not really there

    to Hasegawa Kai’s:

    deep winter
    within the pillar
    the rushing of waves

    which, if I remember correctly, references Basho’s:

    the rough sea-
    flowing toward Sado Isle
    the Milky Way

    (sorry, on this computer I don’t have a menu of the symbols I’d liked to have used above)

  4. Allan, Your comment: “But the more haiku loses its traditional philosophical moorings, the more it risks lapsing into triviality and lists of ‘rules’….”

    This is something I’ve felt about all poetry…and have come to feel in my own life that understanding that the word is holy…there is a holy quality about words themselves …is vital to any poetry. In religion, in philosophy, we come to understand the power of these things as we see and examine the influences on our lives.

    I’m so glad you brought this up becaused it is something I have difficulty explaining to others without it becoming a tool used against itself where someone appoints themselves as the “authority” to pass on what is holy and what is not. It’s the very same problem all religions have…all philosophies have…all literature has…all cultures have. So I tread carefully here… I’m just glad for gatherings like this where we can all bring these up for discussion.

  5. “…several classical writers of haiku (in Japan) practiced Zen Buddhism…but that didn’t make haiku a Zen Buddhist practice.”

    I agree so far as that goes, although there’s of course much more to be said. First, a number of the major J haiku poets were Pure Land Buddhists (e.g., Chiyo-ni, Buson, and Issa). So it would be safe to say the primary affiliation of classic haiku is with Buddhism, in general, rather than with Zen, in particular.

    Buddhism constitutes a major part of the cultural background from which haiku emerged, and I believe it would have taken a quite different form but for that background. Among other things, Buddhism has helped give haiku its philosophical depth. In terms of technique and subjects, haiku was also definitely influenced in significant ways by the work of pre-haiku Buddhist poets such as Wang Wei and Saigyō, whose work tends to be imagistic, nature-oriented, and self-effacing.

    Of course, one does not need to practice Buddhism in order to write haiku. But the more haiku loses its traditional philosophical moorings, the more it risks lapsing into triviality and lists of “rules” (ossification of the masters’ practice sans the “spirit”)—and so needs to find other means of achieving “depth”.

    You get a sense of the profound connection between Buddhism and haiku, for the classic poets, from passages such as these:

    “Like Bashō, who espoused haiku as a Way, or a life’s path (haikai no michi), and who also wrote his best haiku in his later years after meditating in a Zen temple for ten years, Chiyo-ni’s best haiku were written in her later years after becoming a nun and devoting her life to Buddhism and haiku” (Patricia Donegan and Yoshie Ishibashi, Chiyo-ni: Woman Haiku Master, pg. 41)

    “The basic tenet of Buddhism, that of mujō, or impermanence, is naturally reflected in most haiku, Chiyo-ni’s as well. This follows Bashō’s edict on the importance of becoming one with nature and capturing its fleeting quality” (ibid, pg. 47).

    “Roughly ninety percent of [Chiyo-ni’s] haiku are about things in nature rather than the social realm. This kind of haiku practice emphasizing seeing things clearly, becoming one with nature, and living the Way of Haiku co-emerged with her Buddhist practice” (ibid, pg. 78).

    Buson once wrote: “Haikai values a verse that detaches itself from the mundane while using a language that is mundane. Making use of the mundane while being detached from it—such an art of detachment is very difficult to put into practice. ‘Listen to the sound of one hand clapping,’ said a certain Zen monk. In those words lies the Zen of haikai as well as the art of detachment from the mundane” (Makoto Ueda, The Path of Flowering Thorn: The Life and Poetry of Yosa Buson, pg. 66).

    Just a very few quick exs.

    I realize this discussion is tangential to the subject of gendai, but it’s important and worth having. To tie it in more clearly: Gendai, I would say, is one form “non-Buddhist” haiku can take and has taken. I think non-Buddhist poets in the West will be receptive to this direction because Buddhist-informed poetic techniques (which to date have tended to dominate elh, even when written by non-Buddhists) come to seem inadequate and even hollow or cliched when separated from Buddhist practice and philosophy. That’s a big part of what’s been happening to our haiku recently, I feel.

  6. A few years ago I heard a speaker (whose name I can’t remember, but it may have been Richard von Sturmer) note that several classical writers of haiku (in Japan) practiced Zen Buddhism … but that didn’t make haiku a Zen Buddhist practice.
    That single sentence answered a lot of questions about haiku all at once.

  7. Mark asks, “Did Basho practise zen?”

    from Makoto Ueda’s Bashō and His Interpreters: Selected Hokku with Commentary:

    “Conveniently for Bashō, there was a Zen monk living in his new neighborhood. Butchō (1642–1716), head of a Zen temple in Hitachi Province (Ibaraki Prefecture), was temporarily staying in Fukagawa because of a lawsuit involving his parish. Bashō practiced Zen meditation under the monk’s guidance, although no record surviving today specifies when and where he did so. His commitment to Zen was a serious one, for he was later to recall ‘at one time I thought of confining myself within the doors of a monastery.’ Allusions to Zen are scattered through his poetry and other writings, even though it is sometimes difficult to tell whether they refer directly to Zen or are simply reflections of Japanese culture, which had assimilated Zen by Bashō’s time” (pg. 68).

  8. Carmen Sterba writes: “it’s not easy for Japanese to know how much Blyth’s interpretations of haiku influenced Western poets or know that a good number of Western haiku poets are dedicated Buddhists and a large number feel something akin to Eastern philosophy.

    It is my guess, that Ban’ya wrote the “Flying
    Pope” series as a reaction towards haiku abroad that contain the expressions such as “laughing buddha.” ”

    and Lorin Ford: “Just as we have absorbed Shakespeare and other great writers of the past, contemporary Japanese people will know their ‘greats’, but the poets will be engaging with ‘now’ as well as the tradition, and with all the questions and responses that poets worldwide have. Yet that doesn’t devalue the ‘zen-centred’ ELH, since much has been gained by the West in the C20 by finding expression for and confirmation of the ’still point of the turning world’.”

    Constant reminders on this thread of how new ideas come from misunderstandings, imperfect translations, sporadic communications across cultural divides.

    Did Basho practise zen? If so, his understanding would be different from ours, as would his understanding of haiku. Likewise, we are inspired by Shakespeare without ever fully understanding what he learned from his time and place. In our time, the literary tendancies of a Japanese college professor living in France and a Californian poet and zen practitioner will vary widely.

    Recently published English-language haiku that we might consider “gendai” is often different from Japanese gendai haiku in ways hard to define. Do the differences derive from the influence of zen or a different understanding of the uses of surrealism and cuts? I appreciate being made aware of the questions even if they are unanswerable.

  9. “Yet that doesn’t devalue the ‘zen-centred’ ELH . . .”

    Lorin

    Right, that is why it is necessary to explain to those who are dubious of the Zen connection in ELH. There is a great difference between haiku that is Zen inspired like Hackett’s and that which mimics old Japanese haiku. In addition, there are other influences from Shintoism, Confucianism and other sects of Buddhism. Basho was especially inspired by the simplicity of waka poet Saigyo who was a monk of the Shingon sect of Buddhism.

  10. Correction:
    I meant to state “Our knowledge of pre-modern haiku (before 1868) doesn’t (rather than does) prepare us to begin to understand “gendai haiku.”

  11. Carmen, thank you for this timely post. I’m getting a sense now of possible bridges. .. ah, but I’ve not been to Japan and don’t read the language, so I rely very much on what you and others convey through your writing. A great thing about THF! Since I discovered it, I can hardly keep away and enjoy so much following these discussions. (and today was Boxing Day, here; there’s a party going on next door and it’s a perfect Summer night, but I keep coming back here!)

    “Our knowledge of pre-modern haiku does prepare us to begin to understand “gendai haiku.” One good example is Ban’ya’s “Flying Pope” series. I have picked up on his consternation towards how Zen- centered much of international haiku seems to the Japanese.”

    ” It is my guess, that Ban’ya wrote the “Flying
    Pope” series as a reaction towards haiku abroad that contain the expressions such as “laughing buddha.” Carmen

    🙂 ! Ha, many thanks! That clicks with me! Not so strange, after all. I met a young (to me) Japanese haiku poet, Keiji Minato, here in Melbourne last year (2008) and I got the impression that there were (roughly) two groups that wrote haiku in Japan: poets and ‘older people’ (as he put it) who had taken it up as a hobby. I feel that at first he put me in the second group, but that changed.

    Just as we have absorbed Shakespeare and other great writers of the past, contemporary Japanese people will know their ‘greats’, but the poets will be engaging with ‘now’ as well as the tradition, and with all the questions and responses that poets worldwide have. Yet that doesn’t devalue the ‘zen-centred’ ELH, since much has been gained by the West in the C20 by finding expression for and confirmation of the ‘still point of the turning world’.

    So much to learn! But the exchange is exhilarating.

    Lorin

  12. I just happily came upon this discussion. I have two points I’d like to comment on:

    Peter Yovu:
    “As regards gendai, many of us may feel like strangers in a strange land, a situation which pits us against ourselves, our received notions, beliefs and identifications.”

    and Scott Metz
    “. . . practice the modern in the grandeur of the old.”
    from Kaneko Tōta

    Recently I started my own haiku column in a Japanese-American newspaper and I’ve been thinking a lot about the beginning of the Haiku
    Movement in the West. After watching Japan
    change dramatically during the 31 years I lived
    there and then returning back to America, I am concerned with articles and books about haiku in English as well as many of the presentations that are given at haiku meetings and haiku conferences around the world which are somewhat fixated on 17th century Japan that no longer exists. I don’t mean we should stop research on Basho or other masters. All I mean is we need to bring in new angles to old topics. And at conferences we can visit cultural places in those cities in addition to Japanese gardens.

    Japan is such an eclectic country. There is hardly any art, literature, music, cuisine, fashion, or architecture that has stood still in Japan. The combinations are sometimes baffling even to the Japanese, but are continually fascinating and even dazzling. Nevertheless, there is a core of the traditional in what is most vibrant.

    Our knowledge of pre-modern haiku does prepare us to begin to understand “gendai haiku.” One good example is Ban’ya’s “Flying Pope” series. I have picked up on his consternation towards how Zen- centered much of international haiku seems to the Japanese. Yet, it’s not easy for Japanese to know how much Blyth’s interpretations of haiku influenced Western poets or know that a good number of Western haiku poets are dedicated Buddhists and a large number feel something akin to Eastern philosophy.

    It is my guess, that Ban’ya wrote the “Flying
    Pope” series as a reaction towards haiku abroad that contain the expressions such as “laughing buddha.” One or two reviewers wondered what Ban’ya even knew about the pope or Catholicism, and I realized that this is the reaction he must have expected. But the truth is that as a college professor who lived in France and is well-versed in international events, Ban’ya must remember how the press used to call Pope John Paul the “Flying Pope” because of his constant travel. So, here we have the paradox of people in the East and West expecting each other to stick to their own cultural associations.

    In conclusion, I find most of “gendai haiku” are fascinating and believe that though it’s not for everyone, it is invigorating for haiku in Japan.
    Will the kind of haiku written in “Roadrunner” (for example) catch on with a greater number of poets outside Japan? I think it’s likely. But what’s the most important, no matter what the style, is that the core of haiku reverberates with something traditional while it achieves a quality of freshness.

  13. ps I should’ve said ” ‘firefly’ as utterance” rather than ” ‘firefly’ as word”, above, I think, though I mean both.

    Lorin

  14. firefly after firefly
    out of the wide open
    mouth of a woman

    —Chuei Yagi

    out of the wide open
    mouth of a woman
    firefly firefly

    — Gabi (trans)

    Interesting that in Gabi’s translation the ‘edge’ between ‘firefly’ as image of the insect and ‘firefly’ as word becomes (in my reading) even less distinct. Yet the 3rd line still surprises.

    But today I am reminded, amusingly, that so much depends on the culture, which includes the classics of the literature. I have learnt that *calling* fireflies was common practice! At least, that’s what I’ve gathered from several haiku by Issa on David Lanoue’s site:

    http://haikuguy.com/issa/index.html

    hito-goe ya ôhone otte tobu hotaru

    people’s voices–
    with all their might
    the fireflies flit
    Issa-1814
    ‘Literally, the firefly (or fireflies) are flitting with “bone-breaking” effort … to reward the people who are calling.’ (quote from site)

    yobu koe wo hariai ni tobu hotaru kana

    toward the calling voice
    flying with gusto…
    firefly

    Issa – 1820

    mokuboji ya inu ga yonde mo kuru hotaru

    Mokubo Temple–
    the dog calls, too
    fireflies come

    Issa -1813

    and, 😉

    [hotaru] yobu kuchi e tobi iru hotaru kana
    a mouth calling fireflies–
    one
    flies in

    Issa – 1812
    ‘In his diary, this haiku actually begins with the word, “nightingale” (uguisu). Scholars are confident that Issa meant to write the similar character, “firefly” (hotaru).’ ( quote from site)

    Given this ‘firefly calling’ custom, and that last one of Issa’s (which amusingly reminds me of my grandmother’s response to the ‘O’ mouth in children, “Close your mouth or you’ll catch flies”) Chuei Yagi’s ‘firefly after firefly’/ firefly firefly’ ‘out of the wide open/ mouth of a woman’ seems far less strange and a lot lighter in tone , since we can assume at least familiarity with Issa’s previous work and perhaps even allusion. In light of that, Chuei Yagi’s haiku takes on the layered quality of fairy tales.

    Lorin

  15. Scott, I appreciate the way you worded the second paragraph of the above post. I’ve been trying to explain haiku to someone in my area who e-mails asking questions and I feel that a good deal of haiku is understood in those lines. Funny how strange that way of thinking is to some in the Western world.

  16. ほうとあく女のくちからほたるほたる

    firefly after firefly
    out of the wide open
    mouth of a woman

    —Chuei Yagi

    The three Japanese lines read

    out of the wide open
    mouth of a woman
    firefly firefly

    .

  17. it’s interesting that we began with more contemporary/modern/20th c. work (gendai) and it’s found its way back to that Shintō god, Bashō.

    so, (Gabi), are you saying that the cut/kireji is what ties gendai/modern haiku to hokku? is it the shifting/drifting of language/time/space/images that serves as the silky iron thread that allows the art of haiku to continue to expand?

    also, there was some discussion of a firefly ku a ways back that i shared:

    ほうとあく女のくちからほたるほたる

    firefly after firefly
    out of the wide open
    mouth of a woman

    —Chuei Yagi

    (interesting how the english of the second line tries to trick the reader into thinking something far more familiar and expected, leading us to a 3rd line that utterly surprises, utterly shifts expectations in imagery and experience)

    While someone helpfully reminded us that in Japanese tradition they (fireflies/hotaru) are capable of representing the spirits of dead soldiers, i also, just yesterday, came across an exquisite hokku by Buson:

    minasoko no
    kusa ni kogaruru
    hotaru kana

    longing for the grass
    at the bottom of the water
    fireflies

    (trans. by Makoto Ueda)

    Ueda notes that this hokku “alludes to the Japanese poetic tradition, in which a firefly’s light was often used as a metaphor for the burning passion of a lover.”

    this is an example of the poet personifying those amazing insects, and yet i feel he’s gotten me so close to them through this technique, the way they move. the word “longing” says volumes, and the japanese for it, “kogaruru,” somehow envelopes their movement. maybe an example of how image and movement became language for Buson. Buson was a famous painter, and yet, based on this ku, I get the impression he would have been a famous animator for anime films in the 20th and 21st c.

  18. Gabi, The post for “shadow” is so true. Any artist knows the intricate play of light and color in shadows and so many things
    affect and change them.

  19. I appreciate this about the cut marker. The more I write, the more valuable I find it. There was a time I enjoyed the ambiguity of leaving it out, but the more I desire to be more precise in my writing and for the reader who much try to discern what I’m trying to say, the “nuances” become more important.

  20. Dear Lorin and all,
    well, there is a reason for using the Cut Marker in Japanese haiku !! (grin …)

    I checked a bit more on this haiku and found out that Basho made a few other versions before reaching this one.

    bajoo … refers not the back of the horse, but a man on horseback

    kage kooru 影氷る(かげこおる)frozen shadow
    is a kigo for late winter

    Anyway, the rest and my version of the translation is here
    http://wkdhaikutopics.blogspot.com/2007/03/shadow.html

    The Japanese original is indeed very important when discussing the fine nuances of Japanese haiku !

    Gabi

  21. the winter sun
    on my horse’s back
    my frozen shadow

    Basho

    the winter sun . . .
    on my horse’s back
    my frozen shadow

    Gabi, I have to admit that the cut marker makes quite a difference in this one, the difference between reading the sun on the horse’s back or not.

    It seems more elegant and true with the cut marker. After all, if the sun was directly on the horse’s back, the shadow would be on the horses neck, in front of the rider, ‘frozen’ or not, Winter or not. With the cut marker, the rider is heading toward the sun, the shadow is behind. The literal reading gives direction toward non-literal readings.

    (in memory of my one horse, the most empathic, strong and many-paced quarter-horse, Tommy)

    lorin

  22. Here are the poems and authors:

    the very first sky
    now being manufactured
    out of the first smoke Issa (version Corman)

    cold cherry blossoms
    the old artisan
    cuts stone with sparks Saito Sanki

    under the evening moon
    the snail
    stripped to the waist Issa

    in the autumn wind
    what’s your voice, spider,
    what’s your song Basho

    gentleness
    pervades its shell
    a snail Yamaguchi Seishi

    that mountain cuckoo
    probably born
    in the crotch of a tree Buson

    focussing the strength
    of the abandoned garden
    a sunflower Saito Sanki

    in a dream
    my daughter lifts a melon
    to her soft cheek Issa

    under the flaming sky
    a distant sail: in my heart,
    a sail Yamaguchi Seishi

    above the crumbled bricks
    a butterfly, its heart attached
    here to the slums Kaneko Tota

    the cicada’s call
    the same red as
    a pinwheel Issa

    the cicada’s shell
    sang itself
    completely away Basho

    it joins a group
    a killifish swiftly
    and happily Kaneko Tota

    spring
    white eggs
    and white eggs’ shadows Tomizawa Kakio

    I envy them both–
    a wintry blast,
    the breath of a sleeping monk Saito Sanki

    the winter sun
    on my horse’s back
    my frozen shadow Basho

    I took translations primarily from *Modern Japanese Haiku* (Makoto Ueda) and from *The Essential Haiku* (Robert Hass), and also from Saito Sanki’s *The Kobe Hotel* (Saito Masaya).

  23. “The original Japanese would make the sound count available and also show the old cutting words, and so be immediate indicators.”

    1. are there any NEW cutting words?

    2. I am wondering about the translations you quoted.
    For example
    if the English reads

    old pond

    would this indicate that the Japanese author did NOT use a cut marker (kireji) and just wrote
    furu ike ?

    Or
    that the translator did not translate the cut marker, giving the (wrong) impression that Basho also did NOT use a cut marker?

    furu ike YA
    ?

    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/translatinghaiku/
    .

  24. I’ve remembered who wrote one of the “heart” poems and found the author of the other, so I’ll pull my bet before someone takes it! I do know that “heart” or “kokoro” shows up in many traditional haiku and is a quality that has long been valued by Japanese poets.

  25. The original Japanese would make the sound count available and also show the old cutting words, and so be immediate indicators.

    I suspect that many gendai haijin have a range of work from very accessible to less so, and no doubt to show this range could be helpful.

  26. It seems conceivable to me that all the haiku Peter lists could have been written in “the old days.” Gabi is right that the original Japanese might make distinctions clearer for those fluent in that language. Because I recognize a few poems and have been told that half are traditional and half gendai, I might venture guesses as to which ones belong to which group. I believe there are some references to World War II. The important thing, though, is that the poems feel clearly connected and compatible within a literary tradition. All are reasonably accessible without footnotes; all suggest depths that one might plumb over many readings. I’ll bet on one of the two “heart” poems being traditional.

    Peggy

  27. Well, I knew that one was Basho’s, I thought I recognised two as variations on a couple of Issa’s I’ve seen and I knew the traditional Japanese literary conceit about mute (to us) insects having voices, so suspected that the author of ‘in the autumn wind’ was Japanese, and possibly Issa.

    Interesting to find that I didn’t really consider any of these to be particularly ‘gendai’, in that none of them seems either extremely personal/private, nor fanciful, nor particularly surreal.

    The three that I thought might’ve been written by fairly contemporary authors:

    in a dream
    my daughter lifts a melon
    to her soft cheek

    ( because of the ambiguity of L1…who’s dreaming?)

    under the flaming sky
    a distant sail: in my heart,
    a sail

    (because as far as I know, the older Japanese poets didn’t talk about ‘my heart’ this overtly, though for all I know they might’ve, but ‘heart’ was translated as something else)

    above the crumbled bricks
    a butterfly, its heart attached
    here to the slums

    (again, the heart and also the word ‘slums’ and the ‘here’ placed oddly to give another possible reading than ‘…to the slums here’, which would be the more natural English syntax)

    But no, none strike me as what I recognise (to date) as ‘gendai’ haiku. Which isn’t saying much, since I’ve read little of it, so far.

    lorin

  28. What I’ll say right now is that the authors, in no significant order are: Kaneko
    Tota, Buson, Issa, Tomizawa Kakio, Yamaguchi Seishi,
    Basho, and Saito Sanki.

  29. Let’s continue…

    cold cherry blossoms
    the old artisan
    cuts stone with sparks

    under the evening moon
    the snail
    stripped to the waist

    in the autumn wind
    what’s your voice, spider,
    what’s your song

    gentleness
    pervades its shell
    a snail

    that mountain cuckoo
    probably born
    in the crotch of a tree

    focussing the strength
    of the abandoned garden
    a sunflower

    in a dream
    my daughter lifts a melon
    to her soft cheek

    under the flaming sky
    a distant sail: in my heart,
    a sail

    above the crumbled bricks
    a butterfly, its heart attached
    here to the slums

    the cicada’s call
    the same red as
    a pinwheel

    the cicada’ shell
    sang itself
    completely away

    it joins a group
    a killifish swiftly
    and happily

    spring
    white eggs
    and white eggs’ shadows

    I envy them both–
    a wintry blast,
    the breath of a sleeping monk

    the winter sun
    on my horse’s back
    my frozen shadow

  30. I’m going to present here, for a bit of fun, a bunch of poems without their authors. Some were written by gendai haijin, an equal number written in the old days. Some I’m sure will be familiar. But the challenge here is that for those that are *not familiar* to you, to guess if they are gendai (modern) or not. What do you think?
    Also, to keep in mind the “iron silky thread” Scott referred to. Or is it “silky iron?”

    the very first sky
    now being manufactured
    from the first smoke

  31. I learned about that aspect of the symbolism of fireflies from the anime movie Grave of the Fireflies (火垂るの墓, Hotaru no Haka) a moving story set in Japan during World War 2.

    There’s no telling where cultural awareness may spring from, is there?

    If you’d like to know more about the film, go here:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grave_of_the_Fireflies

    with my mother
    waiting for my younger sister
    chilly autumn night

    – Shiki (tr Shiki-Kinen Museum English volunteers)

  32. that firefly ku is certainly a harlequin and a transparent thing. it floats back centuries. visually (not unlike something by Buson) it’s a concoction of Dali and Norman Rockwell.

    i just came across this one again:

    could not pick up
    a piece of the rainbow
    anywhere

    -Seishi Yamaguchi

    (The Haiku Universe for the 21st C., trans. Gendai Haiku Association)

  33. Hi Lorin,
    I know little about Shakespeare … sorry.
    But I guess there are quite a few “cultural keywords” in his oevre, if one starts to dig.
    Dreaming of a “Shakespeare Saijiki” coming up from English language haiku poets.

    Maybe Goethe and the old FAUST for starters in Germany? hahaha “The Goethe Kigo Companion” …

    for now, I stick with my Japanese.
    Gabi

  34. ‘All hail Macbeth’

    No wonder Kurosawa made so many films based on Shakespeare’s plays, then, Gabi!

    Now where does that leave ‘light thickens/ and the crow makes way/ to the rooky wood’ , as far as ‘kigo’ goes?
    Have you seen the early (and brilliant) ‘Throne of Blood’?

    lorin

  35. “…a space around the literal that allows me to move into other dimensions. ”

    “…is there a dimension which has yet to open up to my perception?” Peter

    Yes! I ask that, too. Sometimes, if I’m patient, further and yet further dimensions (of a poem, of a haiku) open to me, and yet I’m aware that I still may not have ‘got’ it all, that for whatever reason, some things might be forever beyond me. Yet whatever ‘clicks’, whatever I *can* perceive is like a gift.

    One such gift that this ‘firefly’ haiku has given me (or returned to me) is that the name, the word for, a thing is not the thing. Yet if it was… what a wonderful image is this woman’s mouth from which firefly after firefly emerge, and also do not. A creation story and also an insight into creation stories.

    lorin

  36. Perception interests me: how it works, how it happens, and this includes how we read, how reading happens.
    I can read this poem and be enchanted on a very literal level. If the image were, let’s say, presented as an illustration in a children’s book, I would be quite taken with it just as it is. But I don’t know if this would be possible if there were not some other element, a space around the literal that allows me to move into other dimensions. (Something children experience until it is taught out of them). Those other dimensions might be mythological, dream-oriented, or something else. Without those, the literal image might be difficult or even intolerable. So what I wonder about regarding some poems (or other art forms, or states I find myself in) which I find difficult, and which I move away from, is this: is there a dimension which has yet to open up to my perception? It is essentially a spiritual way of looking at poetry: a bowing to the possibility, at least, that what I don’t understand may be simply beyond me right now.

  37. It’s interesting, Sandra, that mythological background to ‘fireflies’ and yes, it does add another layer. What it shows is that we bring a culture to haiku, and to really grasp a haiku might depend a lot on shared culture, unless (sometimes copious) footnotes are provided.

    Peter,

    firefly after firefly
    out of the wide open mouth
    of a woman

    ‘ I suppose the tendency is to try to find meaning in something, and to do in the way or ways by which we typically succeed. If those ways don’t work, most likely we move on. I certainly come across things in all the arts to which I expose myself, that I have little patience for. Much conceptual art leaves me cold; I’m intrigued by, but not drawn to the work of the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets. Maybe they just don’t make sense in ways I can usually make sense, or maybe I insist too much that sense is something that has to be made. ‘ Peter

    I’m also one who likes to make sense of some kind of what I read. How can we say we’re really reading if we can’t construe meaning? We are a pattern-recognising and pattern-making species. Interesting that you mention L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry here, in relation to this firefly haiku. One thing that ‘language’ poetry ( I really don’t want to type it out properly again) has done, along with some of the fine, questioning essays written by some of the ‘language’ poets is that they’ve succeeded in drawing fresh attention to the (seemingly obvious) fact that we use words. (I do recommend Ron Silliman’s, ‘The Chinese Notebook’, available on-line)

    On first read of

    firefly after firefly
    out of the wide open mouth
    of a woman

    I saw the literal image: fireflies coming out of the woman’s mouth. I thought, ‘another surreal image’. On second read, I made sense of it by putting myself into a ‘firefly watching’ scene. I have only actually seen fireflies in Indonesia, way back in the early 70s, but recall my delight and fascination at my first experience of this quiet and magical drift of insect lights… *and* that, to my partner’s amusement, I was lost for words, all except for the one word, ‘fireflies!’

    So, I have made ‘mundane sense’ of this haiku to my own satisfaction: fireflies, a woman seeing fireflies, perhaps for the first time, her mouth wide open in that characteristic expression of wonder, delight, surprise… the O expression… and saying the word, ‘firefly’ over and over again.

    This ‘mundane sense’ isn’t at all reductive for me, but opens it so that further possibilities arise. Somewhere or other along the way I’ve read that going to watch fireflies, in Japan, used to be an excuse for young women and men to get out in the woods for sexual encounters.

    The persona of the poem seems male to me. The woman’s attention is captivated by the fireflies;his focus seems to be the ‘wide open mouth/ of a woman’. ‘That’d be about right ;-)’, I thought, entering the poem in my own way. This ‘own way’ might be only a beginning, but isn’t that how we read?

    lorin

  38. Yes, I loved that verse too, Peter.

    Fireflies, as many of you will know, in Japan represent the spirits of dead soldiers – which adds another layer of rich meaning to this.

    Man born of woman, etc.

  39. I’ve been thinking about the connective tissue, what Scott calls. I think, “the iron silky thread” between traditional and modern Japanese haiku. It seems an important consideration. One could ask the question, “is there an underlying principle or source common to both”? A question whose answer can probably only be felt or intuited; a question as koan-like as “what is the source of poetry?”. For me, it is an important question– not one I have to keep in the foreground of my consciousness, but more like a black leopard that ranges in forest shadows and now and then, as it wishes, comes into the light to show me something shining in its eyes. Or sometimes, rather scarily, that emerges, takes me like a kitten in its mouth and brings me into the forest, where when my eyes adjust to the dark, I see something new.

    I’ve been captured by a poem Scott presented at the end of his last post:

    firefly after firefly
    out of the wide open mouth
    of a woman

    I suppose the tendency is to try to find meaning in something, and to do in the way or ways by which we typically succeed. If those ways don’t work, most likely we move on. I certainly come across things in all the arts to which I expose myself, that I have little patience for. Much conceptual art leaves me cold; I’m intrigued by, but not drawn to the work of the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets. Maybe they just don’t make sense in ways I can usually make sense, or maybe I insist too much that sense is something that has to be made.

    So why am I taken by the poem above? It doesn’t seem like anything the old guys and gals would have written. Or is that wrong? I can’t remember at the moment which of them it was who wrote something like: the temple bell stops/ but the sound keeps coming/ out of the flowers

    To be fair, I think that may be Bly’s version, but I think it has the feeling of the original. And it does not seem far away from the Chuei Yagi poem to me. Both have tremendous appeal. It is easy for me to imagine that Chuei Yagi wrote this in response to seeing fireflies and feeling, intuiting, that they were emerging from something feminine: the night as feminine, the darkness as feminine, nature as feminine; and that it was this feeling which was important to express, and to express it in the way she(?) did was the freshest, the truest way. Of course, I’m speculating; I’m projecting the way I find meaning; I’m mythologizing.
    But the question remains: is this poem connected, if only in ways discernible by a firefly’s intermittent light, to the haiku of the old ones?

    Here’s a more radical (perhaps) comparison, which I will present without commentary.

    coughing even: alone
    Saito Sanki

    a crow has settled
    on a bare branch–
    autumn evening
    Basho

    This post may be close to being as much as the server can handle, (thanks to Dave Russo for all his work) so I will post some further comparisons later, in a way which I hope will be fun. And maybe others will do the same.

  40. I’m so glad I got the page back so I could read these comments … I love Gabi’s quote from Joseph Campbell. And the line of Allan’s: “…unique form of communal literature…” I find seems so vital to haiku. I keep finding echoes of past eons of the human existance in haiku. I find cultures cross where I had not expected to have any similarity. I find so many surprises in just “ordinary” haiku.
    And I am most grateful to THF for this valiant effort to make it available to anyone and everyone everywhere.

  41. When I click on “newer comments” I get a blank page…Can’t read anything past the comment by Lorin on Dec. 13th.

    If this prints, I’d like to thank Sandra for this line:

    “waiting in the wharenui” I love the music of it…even if I don’t know what it means right now. I have never been one to write for music alone…meaning usually propels my haiku, but I love to read a musical line.

  42. quote
    This, I believe, is the great Western truth: that each of us is a completely unique creature and that, if we are ever to give any gift to the world,
    it will have to come out of our own experience and fulfillment of our own potentialities,
    not someone else’s.

    Joseph Campbell

  43. Hey, Scott (& all),

    Gotta keep this brief, as I’m heading out early tomorrow–and then will be out of Internet contact for a number of days.

    Just want to point out that although superficially Scott and I may have seemed at odds here (and we definitely have very different tastes, emphases, and relationships to haiku), careful readers will note broad areas of agreement between us, including but not necessarily limited to: a mistrust of labels; a belief that traditional and experimental tendencies can, indeed must, coexist; and a willingness to ask quite a lot of this tiny genre.

    “this is the elasticity of haiku, the beauty of it i think—its ability to expand, evolve, widen, grow, mutate.”

    Couldn’t agree more. And don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the efforts of those testing the frontiers and connecting with aspects of contemporary J haiku. We need to know about that.

    What I, personally, would love to see, though, is a broad overview of what’s happening there now. According to various estimates I’ve heard, there are something like 1 to 10 million people writing haiku in Japan now. Gendai, it seems, must be only a tiny tiny part of all that swirling, coruscating activity. I’m sure a high percentage is probably formulaic–but there must be vital pockets representing all sorts of approaches. Even starting to get a handle on it all, though, would be quite a daunting task for anyone.

    As for gendai, and to approach Peter’s implied inquiry, all I can say is I haven’t connected. As a phenomenon, it interests me, as nothing related to haiku doesn’t. But I’ve felt no “shock of recognition,” perhaps because of the place from which it comes (urban orientation [typically, it seems], non-Buddhist, Western-influenced, inwardly focused, opaque–although I well know and appreciate these same things jazz others; cool). “it’s not for everyone. but it doesn’t have to be.” Certainly it offers, to me, nothing remotely approaching the way trad/classic/whatever-you-want-to-call-it haiku, both J and E-l, magnetized (and continues to do so) the crucial yet haphazardly assembled iron filings I had accumulated in my life to that point: a love for “the great outdoors”; environmentalism; nature writing; poetry, particularly short and more particularly still in an Imagist mode; empiricism; Buddhism. Haiku became the focal point that related everything else. It’s the journey I’m on, totally a personal thing, I realize, so maybe not “helpful.” I only hope others are enjoying their own journeys as much. Nice to intersect with some of them here, even collide. Maybe we’re stronger for the parts that don’t break off.

    I agree with Scott (and here I’m responding also to my friend Paul Miller, an outstanding haikuist, of course, as well) that the edge can’t really be defined by “rules,” theoretically, or in any kind of a priori manner. Only a posteriori, after the fact of the work. It moves, eludes, surprises. John Stevenson, in his most recent collection, pulled off a brilliant one-worder. Whodathunk? Maybe it’s not the poet who ultimately decides what is and isn’t haiku, though. Probably more like that nebulous entity, the “community.” We’d certainly say “no” to something, say, a hundred lines long, regardless of what the poet maintained, I’d think.

    My attitude toward the “center” differs, though, in that, for ex., I don’t require a “masterpiece” or a “breakthrough” each time to enjoy haiku. I really like the quality run-of-the-mill stuff, the sincere effort, the variety (which mirrors that of life itself), the sharing. It’s a unique form of communal literature, something totally new in the history of Western lit and that won’t be assimilated, broadly, for a long time, I suspect. When I think of it, which is often, I am filled with joy to be a small part of it, to be living in this moment when it’s still just starting to unfold. Maybe this viewpoint requires unjaded beginner’s mind….

    Also, while I’m blathering, I realize I might sometimes sound a bit “cosmic” while discussing haiku abstractly (sabi!, transience!, selflessness!, oneness!, usw), but it’s really the particularized here-and-now earthiness that attracts me, or at least the way that figures the “cosmic.” Great work such as, say, Stan Forrester’s reminds me the name itself means “playful verse”–serious play, though, the dance of livingdying. Lots else, of course, does the same, like Scott’s beautiful “a/ not/ her/ drop….” The fact is, I love a lot of haiku in various styles and have tried to express that through Montage.

    Speaking of which, and lastly, many thanks to Merrill and Adelaide for their comments on the latest gallery. Enjoy those Halcyon Days, folks. So much for brief, I guess. Just some informal chat; don’t ask too much of it. Will catch up with y’all later….

  44. “. . . practice the modern in the grandeur of the old.”
    —Kaneko Tōta

    My Japanese haiku sensei once put it that way

    “it is far more difficult to find your freedom WITHIN the haiku form, than outside of it”

    (We often have bouts when my “western side” starts discussions … grin grin grin … )

    Greetings from a cold morning in Japan !
    Gabi

    .

  45. Peter,

    “When I was 5 or so, unable to read but keenly interested in words, I opened my father’s battered dictionary for the first time and landed at a page where some animal was illustrated next to the definition of the word that corresponded to it. I immediately fell into a vast space—something enormous opened for me which I did not understand,…” Peter

    My son, when he could barely talk, let alone read, showed me something like this. His name is Adam, and I had written his name and the letter A for him from time to time. He could find it on a breakfast cereal box. One day, in the street, he got very excited (in the pusher) and started saying, “A!!!” insistently, waving his hands about. There wasn’t an A to be seen in any of the signage or vehicle registration plates and my partner and I couldn’t work out what he was on about. Finally, I saw it, from Adam’s point of view. Right there on the street in front of us was a sandwich board sign, side-on. It was an A all right! A great big perfect A, with the taut rope making the horizontal line 😉

    As literate adults, we just hadn’t known how to look.

    lorin

    1. no invalidation intended. complete opposite.

      i think haiku’s edge is constantly changing, shifting, transforming, expanding, mutating. and always will according to how artists and poets need it to change. it speaks to the freedom and elasticity of haiku. for me, i’m willing to say (echoing Hiroaki Sato’s definition) that haiku’s whatever the poet wants or needs it to be. but i’ll be the first one to say whether i think it flies or flops, as each of us naturally will as well. but i am often left feeling that the bar must be raised for work that stands to cling closer to those central areas, techniques and tenets (especially since it’s the most prevalent). gendai and gendai-like work (the modern/contemporary) is in the same boat.

      “a stance or a technique is not a poem”. hell yeah. ride on. it cuts in all directions.

      certainly some work goes (and will go) too far for some. it slips. it goes over the edge. at least it’s taking chances though. the opposite happens also as well, falling into the vortex of the table’s “center”. they fail in some way. or fail for some. bound to happen. *should* happen. always will.

      for me, right now, the edge is somewhere around Hoshinaga Fumio’s:

      ika hakka akadeka hōka kinseka

      squid peppermint
      Red-detective arson
      marigold

      (trans by Richard Gilbert, p 177 Poems of Consciousness)

      explained (“footnoted”) by the poet in the book, it’s like a little labyrinth laid down by James Joyce of stream of consciousness-like sounds, rhythms, colors, onomatopoeia and cultural associations unique to Japan. a little orgasm of words that act as just enough to create a cosmos for the reader to do some experiencing.

      i understand the head scratching, puzzlement and frustration. it’s not for everyone. but it doesn’t have to be. i find myself rather dazzled by it. it’s freeing (“i can do that? haiku can be that too?”). we’re all inspired and moved by different things. i wonder what “squid peppermint” and “flying popes” will look like to haiku poets a century from now.

      i have little doubt that at some point gendai work, or gendai-like work, will become a bit stilted, expected, cliche, a crutch for some, just as work in a more traditional vein often has been and often is. that’s when the edge (which always implies the desk; its terrain and its “center”) will move once again. perhaps outwards, perhaps inwards. perhaps under. or perhaps it will rise a bit and start to hover right above the desk.

      this is the elasticity of haiku, the beauty of it i think—its ability to expand, evolve, widen, grow, mutate. the desk expands; new extensions attached with hinges by careful hands for guests and new family members. the larger the desk, the more there is to explore and wonder/wander about on. the edge is fun though. and when one shouts something sincere there are always echoes. Like Kiyoko Uda says, “This brings great joy” (to some).

      the Gendai Haiku Association has included work of all strands and kinds for a long time. that’s their policy (a far more open and inquisitive one than many other haiku journals and organizations the world over). that’s mine too in a nutshell. but the bar must be raised, quality-wise, for all strands. it certainly ain’t easy, no matter what mirage one’s trying to create.

      may the edge always move. the center and all the land and all the deep, mirrory lakes in between will always be there.

      “. . . practice the modern in the grandeur of the old.”

      —Kaneko Tōta

      “Haiku advances . . . only when it departs from the traditional style.”

      —Shiki

      “Toto, I have the feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

      —Dorothy Gale (The Wizard of Oz)

      ほうとあく女のくちからほたるほたる

      firefly after firefly
      out of the wide open
      mouth of a woman

      —Chuei Yagi

      (trans. by Ban’ya Natsuishi & James Shea)

  46. This Sailing has provided some very good wine to mull: the ingredients are here—some spice, some honey. It is almost more than I can handle. I feel a little drunk. No sooner do I put together some thoughts in response to one post, than another appears and, and I need to reconfigure. I suspect that this topic has stirred up questions for many of us. It has for me. I’ve pulled out a number that have arisen from the discussion, and what I have to say will reflect some of them. Some are perennial questions, others are questions of significance to me right now and which are ongoing inquiries. An example of this: how much does personal preference determine my approach to my writing and in what ways are these preferences valuable, in what ways a limitation?

    I wonder what others feel is their most urgent, import or challenging question? As regards gendai, many of us may feel like strangers in a strange land, a situation which pits us against ourselves, our received notions, beliefs and identifications. When I was a student in Kenya and Tanzania in the seventies, I recall some Peace Corps people talking about statistics that organization had provided them, particularly the high divorce rate among couples who had gone abroad together, especially to poor countries. Without the comforts and retreats of home, they were reliant on each other in ways that many could not bear.

    Another story. When I was 5 or so, unable to read but keenly interested in words, I opened my father’s battered dictionary for the first time and landed at a page where some animal was illustrated next to the definition of the word that corresponded to it. I immediately fell into a vast space—something enormous opened for me which I did not understand, but I suspect that it may have been, in a less dramatic way, something akin to Helen Keller’s experience at the water pump. For me it meant something related to word and image, that there are meanings and mysteries far deeper than any my young soul had yet experienced. Of course, it is only now that I can express it that way. For me, this relates to poetry in general, and it relates to haiku secondarily. I rarely have that same intensity in writing and reading, but I suspect that everything I do relates to that early experience, to making myself available to the meaning below the meaning and what is beneath that.

    Somewhere along the line I experienced something that felt like that in reading haiku. A seed fell into the ancient soil of the imagination– soil, I’d like to say, which was present at the beginning. My imagination, awakened anew, rejoiced. And yet I cannot say what it was that opened: to say it was haiku is only a convenience. It was more likely something beneath anything I can call haiku, and of which haiku is but one expression. But how could I resist? My imagination embraced and took to heart some of the elements it encountered: brevity; sharply focused images playing with and having discussions with each other; a sense of space and mystery in which meanings arose and dissolved, and arose again changed. There are others.

    And yet these for me are elements of *poetry* that the particular (and huge) practice of haiku by many serious writers over centuries has presented and made available—or rather, revealed. So for me, I consider whatever I write a poem first and foremost. Because of my affinity for those elements described, I am likely to hang out in their neighborhood, but not necessarily. I am more comfortable saying that something I have written has some elements of haiku than that it is a haiku. Others can if they wish. In fact, I find it more useful to think of haiku as a quality (comprised of qualities) than as a thing. The Spanish may say that a poem, or any work of art, has *duende*; I like to think that some of my poems have *haiku*.

    I have written poems that some would say are inspired by gendai haiku. That is true. I know that I have written things that I would never have written had I not been exposed to a wide range of traditional Japanese haiku; written things I would never have written had I not been exposed to Cor van den Heuval’s anthologies and other anthologies; equally regarding Robert Spiess and other editors and magazines and individual poets; and lately, my gratitude goes to the editors of Roadrunner, to Chris Gordon to Richard Gilbert and all who have championed gendai. I could present, of course, a longer and more detailed list.

    When I was a student in a MFA program 30 years ago, a teacher spoke of a student who was frustrated with her work, feeling she wasn’t going anywhere with it. “Why don’t you write an angry poem then?” the teacher asked. “I didn’t know you could do that!” the student said. I think the path of writing and of art is going from instance to instance of discovery of what one didn’t know one can do, and certainly gendai, among other influences, will serve that purpose for some, and richly. For others, it will be a closed door that stays closed, no doubt for good reasons. But it will be helpful to know what those reasons are. A private matter perhaps, or one which it will be helpful to share.

    There is a great deal more, but this may be a good place to pause.

  47. Hm, in the cold light of day, if you’re looking for an analogy in that first line, you won’t find one. My intention was to build on Allan’s point, and to further point out that some artists feel free to move from the center to the edge and back again, and sometimes even make that the main thrust of their expression.

  48. Miles Davis played jazz and classical music and forms poorly described by either term. Picasso moved from post-impressionism to surrealism to neo-classicism to cubism, etc. Meryl Streep can inhabit just about any character she chooses.

    Would they stay on the edge and deny themselves the middle, and vice versa? Aren’t we stronger if we allow ourselves (and others) either?

  49. Two quotations:

    “In the late 1950s, however, the chief challenge to Coltrane’s preeminence as the leading saxophonist of his day came not from Coleman or Ayler–little known at the time–or even from Dolphy. The most persuasive alternative to his ‘sheets of sound’ approach emanated, rather, from the heart of the jazz tradition, in the person of tenorist Sonny Rollins.”–Ted Gioia (The History of Jazz, pg. 309)

    “[Bashō] had come to perceive a mode of life by which to resolve some deep dilemmas and to gain peace of mind. It was based on the idea of sabi, the concept that one attains perfect spiritual serenity by immersing oneself in the egoless, impersonal life of nature. The complete absorption of one’s petty ego into the vast, powerful, magnificent universe–this was the underlying theme of many poems by Bashō at this time, including the haiku on the Milky Way we have just seen. This momentary identification of man with inanimate nature was, in his view, essential to poetic creation.”–Makoto Ueda (Matsuo Bashō: The Master Haiku Poet, pgs. 30-31)

    Bashō spoke not of “objectivity” but of butsuga ichniyo (”self-and-object-as-one”). That, I feel, is the crucial vision of classic haiku. Shasei–or, if you prefer, “hyper-literalism”–merely mimics certain external features or results of that viewpoint, without grasping its inner essence and philosophical core–thereby substituting a mere (Western-influenced) method for a complete vision of life. It’s not surprising many, at various points along the spectrum, have found shasei wanting and charted other directions.

    Haiku is said not to be figurative (literalism, again), yet the constant figure of haiku worthy of the name is synecdoche, the part that evokes the whole. A few words that open out on the cosmos and elicit productive trains of thought. Alan Watts: “a good haiku is a pebble thrown into the pool of the listener’s mind.”

    So much depends, though, on what the listener/reader values and brings to the table. The “80%” is half created, half found. Have you entered the poem fully, comprehended its references, penetrated to its core, extracted its riches, followed the trains of thought it can evoke, harmonized with its vision? Or just rolled your eyes and moved along?

    Speaking of “the table,” a preference for its edge is merely that, a preference. Strong work can emanate (Gioia’s word, above) also from the center, as the history of any artform demonstrates. Cecil Taylor and Bill Evans were contemporaries; so were Ezra Pound and Robert Frost. Some innovators are subtle. The advent of a radical new style (say, free jazz, free verse, abstraction in painting, stream of consciousness in fiction) can add something vital but does not invalidate other approaches. Variation increases with time, but that increase cannot be equated with “progress,” as the arts have no final destination. Who would want, anyway, a world in which all art conformed to a single style, even that of the New Thing?

    Regardless of where you position yourself at the haiku “table,” edge, center, halfway between, racing back and forth, anywhere on or off, it doesn’t become any easier to produce good work. The burden of the past and the challenge of the present moment remain the same. A stance or a technique is not a poem. It is possible to speak vitally to the present moment from the heart of the tradition:

    retreating glacier–
    how long since we’ve heard
    the black wolf’s song
    (Billie Wilson, MH 38.1, 2007)

    How many gendai haiku would you like me to trade you for that one? They’re yours.

    (Your values, experience, and vision may be wholly different from mine.)

    The most important thing, I feel, is not to follow a trend or a style or to embrace a label, but to forge a vital individual relationship with the tradition and the genre that have aroused your passionate commitment. There are as many ways of doing that as there are genuine poets.

  50. I think Roland Barthes commentary on haiku, and the general premise, of his book Empire of Signs (1982) provides some insightful ways to trace the “silky iron strand” that links gendai haiku with earlier traditions.

    Barthes only uses examples that most of us would call traditional haiku, but he echoes what Scott discusses above (and Richard Gilbert and Jim Kacian have written about) when he talks of haiku using a language of “jamming” and superimposed layers of meaning through a “lamination” of symbols.

    Quoting from my scribbled notes on the book:

    “Definition is transferred to gesture”

    “object as event”

    the collective body of haiku is “a network of jewels each jewel
    reflects all the others and so on to infinity.” no center

    “Deciphering, normalizing, or tautological, the ways of interpretation intended by the West to ‘pierce’ meaning, ie. to get into it by breaking and entering. . . cannot help failing the haiku, for the work of reading which is attached to it is to suspend language, not to provoke it…”

    and yes this could be said of some other poetry too….but surely of haiku.

    Here’s to reading for 80%!

  51. “at what point do these gendai haiku stop being “haiku”?
    Where is that edge?”

    Indeed, this brings us full circle to the basic definition of haiku (Enlish Language Haiku, Western Haiku (I like that, “Western” for me is the movie type with red indians, hats and horses … )
    and floating hippopotomus in cherry blossoms seem like “surrealistic poetry a la Dali” …

    arrr . . arrrrr . . .
    I start talking back
    to the crows

    Gabi from Japan

  52. Paul,

    I know you addressed your question to Scott Metz. I’d like to hear his answer as well, but I hope you don’t mind if I also comment on your post.

    Is it useful or possible to define a border just beyond our imagined “edge” without risking inflexibility? I would hope that even an editor who has chosen parameters for admission might step outside them from time to time.

    As I failed to highlight in my last post, this conversation is difficult to have without taking sides, laying down rules, focusing on the negative. We’ve seen this in past threads. The arguments quickly become circular. Maybe the edge will only be visible in hindsight.

  53. Hi Scott,

    I’m not arguing that play, experimentation, etc… isn’t important for poetic growth. It very much is. That’s why I read, enjoy, and submit to Roadrunner. But if you are going to publish said poems with any intent of having them read, you have to keep a reader in mind. I’ve written some modern verse and am happy to read some. But I’ve also got hundreds of poems that no one would understand but me. I don’t send those out. It’s not fair to the reader.

    Perhaps a question that jumps off from this discussion (next Sailing?) is: at what point do these gendai haiku stop being “haiku”? Where is that edge?

  54. What a superb thread this is! Peter, many thanks for bringing up the subject in such as way that it has invited this dscussion.

    Alan,
    “Perhaps it is as much a skill in reading as it is a skill for many to read haiku of any kind to who have been brought up to read longer poetry?”

    Perhaps it is indeed. What one learns are new (well, it was new to me) conventions of reading. I am very aware that I had to allow myself to learn to read haiku before beginning to write it. Here’s one of the first haiku (that I was told was a haiku) I heard & saw, by Melbourne poet Carla Sari:

    back from the war
    the tap he couldn’t fix
    still dripping

    Carla Sari, published in 5th ‘paper wasp’ Jack Stamm anthology, 2003)

    The occasion was a ‘mixed’ poetry workshop. My comment, which I recall with amused clarity, was ” Ya can’t have that! It sounds like it’s the tap that’s back from the war!” 🙂 Well, not long after, it was awarded 2nd place in the 5th ‘paper wasp’ Jack Stamm Award.

    Tom,
    “One thing that seems to be emerging from the discussion of gendai — with thanks to Richard Gilbert — is a willingness to read haiku as one would any poem. Unfortunately, an implication of that may be less than likely: that we non-Japanese read a haiku AS a poem — that is, in light of other poems in our linguistic fields including non-haiku poems. If we START there, I think we can see haiku freshly.”

    😉 I don’t think it’s less than likely. I think it’s happening, and as you say, the challenging thing is to see haiku freshly once again. Once we teach ourselves some basic conventions (by reading haiku at all) I think many of us (most of us?) recognise haiku as belonging to the genre of poetry. I do know that haiku has been used for other purposes in the West, but my fascination with haiku has been (still is) as a particularly interesting, challenging and ‘view changing’ form of poetry. From learning to read haiku at all to reading ‘gendai haiku’ can’t be *too* huge a step. Perhaps all that’s needed for us to come to terms with it and sort out for ourselves which ‘gendai haiku’ works best for us and which don’t is simply to have more available, as well as scholarly work and interpretive critical work. Comparisons of Japanese ‘gendai haiku’ with developments in Western poetry might be interesting, too. We know that Shiki’s haiku poetics were influenced by Western realism in his time. I suspect that there is inter-cultural influence, from surrealism and Dada to ‘language’ poetry, involved in Japanese ‘gendai haiku’, too.

    And the opportunity to read such comments as you and others are offering here. I feel very happy and very privileged to have access to such a discussion. Wonders of the internet which overcomes some forms of isolation and insularity!

    Many thanks to all!

    lorin

    1. “We play there.”

      —Uda Kiyoko, president of the Gendai Haiku Association

      This quote is taken from an interview conducted by Itō Yūki and Richard Gilbert, recently translated by them, and published in Simply Haiku, titled “Women & Postwar Gendai Haiku: From Invisibility to Leadership”.

      Here is a larger chunk I took it from:

      “[Itō] There is a saying, ‘haikai-jiyu’ (‘haikai is for freedom,’ a celebrated epithet of Bashō).

      [Uda] So it is said; yet at the same time, the constraints are appreciated; everyone composes haiku with this understanding. Concerning haiku form, generally speaking, if a haiku has an extra ‘sound’ (ichi-ji), there is some contemplation of exactly how this will be resolved. “5-7-5 but an extra ‘sound’—so what shall be done about that?” is the thinking. So, considering what alternate language might correspond: the night flies! (laughs). This process is enjoyable; that is, if we were free to just do anything, this process might not result in such enthusiasm.

      On the edge of freedom. “If you slip there, you will fall down” or something like this. We play there. Not playing here (pointing to the center of the desk), but playing there (pointing to the edge)—this brings joy. So, especially—especially, gendai haiku offers this sense.

      That is, not the given situation: e.g., a given chair at a specific location = “Compose Here.” But rather, we go there (points to the edge)—on our own. Within this realm is the danger of failure due to making a false step. We all, haiku poets—yes—have increasingly been seeking more and further new expressions, and we have been experimenting with them. So, there is such an enjoyment, I believe.”

      My own interest in, and excitement about and over and in, gendai haiku work stems not simply from breaking away from traditions (sound counting or season words/kigo) but, more importantly, in what Uda refers to as “seeking more and further new expressions . . . and . . . experimenting with them.” As she says, it’s quite enjoyable. And freeing.

      And not mutually exclusive when it comes to traditional work and techniques. Gendai haiku often employ seasonal references. It is the expressions, ideas, and the poetic techniques used that, I think, make the work exciting, fresh and new. And which encourage, prompt, poke and prod.

      To quote Kaneko Tōta, honorary president of the Gendai Haiku Association, a shaker in changing and challenging the landscapes of 20th century haiku, and who calls himself an “animist” (Modern Haiku 40.2):

      “My attitude toward seasonal words is that they are important, but there are many other expressions besides. Seasonal words are very important, but I recognize other expressions as well. . . .

      After World War II, women haiku writers, in particular, wanted to feel free so they did not like being tied down by seasonal words. They wanted to write haiku without them. This tendency became more widespread. During the seventies, some people adhered strictly to the rules involving old and new seasonal words, while others did without them and wrote from their feelings. These two ways of thinking overlapped and have been continuing until now. They have produced today’s haiku.” (http://www.modernhaiku.org/essays/GilbertSaijiki.html)

      This last paragraph on haiku and women after WWII ties beautifully in with Uda’s interview with Itō and Richard.

      Non-seasonal kigo (muki-kigo) greatly appeal to me though in the way they allow artistic and poetic freedom as well as push haiku into a more global context. This, also from Tōta: “. . . muki-kigo contain nikukan (‘vital warmth’): “For example, yama (‘mountain’) is not kigo, but the language has nikukan. . . . There is no haiku subject that is . . . not a ‘natural thing.’ Needless to say, in essence, a mountain and a river and likewise, buildings, pavement, and a rocket have nikukan. It is important to grasp them” (Kaneko Tohta. Kon nichi no haiku (“Today’s Haiku”). Tokyo: Kôbunsha, 1965 and 2002, 116).” (http://www.modernhaiku.org/essays/GilbertSaijiki.html)

      Where gendai work excels is when artists take this attitude that “there is no haiku subject that is . . . not a ‘natural thing’” and combine it with “new expressions” and experimentation, playing along the edge of the chair/desk/table; not necessarily where we’re *supposed* to and expected to be composing. This to me is gendai/modern/contemporary for any artform. It requires risk taking on the part of the poet (and, indeed, the chance of failure).

      The results come closer for me to the idea Ogiwara Seisensui promoted, in that haiku are/should be a circle started by the poet and completed by the reader (emphasizing the intimate relationship between poet and reader), a 50-50 engagement/sacrifice, which echos Bashō’s (more radical) saying that great haiku leave 80% to the imagination; or that it’s the poet’s job to create a world/cosmos with their 20%. Westerners writing haiku, I think, often reverse this mathematics.

      I’d like to resurrect bits and pieces of a comment Chris Gordon (editor of ant ant ant ant ant, a haiku journal that’s been publishing and promoting contemporary english haiku now for over a decade) left when Troutswirl just began, something he wrote in regards to the translations of a Kaneko Tōta poem presented in Envoy 1. He wrote about how many English-language haiku lack “internal energy” and as being steadily “written in an awkward stilted kind of artificial language that obscure authorial presence and resist complex or indeterminate meanings.” For me, modern Japanese haiku, and especially gendai work, offers poems that *have* “internal energy” *and* “complex or indeterminate meanings” and are “creation(s) with (their) own life and internal dynamics” (something else Chris wrote).

      In addition, for me, gendai haiku has much to do with something, once again, Kaneko Tōta has been quoted as saying and advancing, a catch phrase of his; that we should compose haiku, “to practice the modern in the grandeur of the old.” Traditional and gendai haiku are not mutually exclusive; it’s not a one or the other kind of thing. Instead, gendai haiku are very much a part of the tradition, intricately intertwined, an extension of the web, outer reaches of the haiku big-bang: it’s natural evolution. Now that I have been exposed to more modern Japanese work and seeing the areas and territories they’ve bravely ventured into, I have a difficult time being enchanted by work that continues to mimic and repeat ideas and techniques already explored to much better effect.

      One heavy question to contemplate though is what is the anchor, the silky iron strand, that links gendai and modern work, in general, to the classical haiku traditions? Is it the cut/cutting/kire that Uda discusses in her interview with Richard and Itō? And, therefore, the combinations/juxtapositions we create through fusing and soldering? Is this the heart of haikai/hokku/haiku/ku?

      And while some see gendai as a means of moving towards more personal kigo, or topics that seem esoteric and culturally unique to outsiders (as some have written about in this Sailing), requiring informative footnotes, it is, at the same time, a drifting away from kigo (and traditional saijiki words) that they’ve found constraining and central only to haijin living in Tokyo or Kyoto (which is still a problem it seems for Japanese poets), and especially to their respective male clicks. So there is both a moving outward/away, as well as a moving inward, simultaneously. We pick up on, and make connections with, what strikes us from our own experiences.

      I agree with the comment in this Sailing that work should be judged according to it’s quality, not whether it’s traditional or gendai or something else. For me, it is always whether the ku is poetically open to me and my imagination; the relationship it’s having with me as a reader. What is it’s artistic merit? Is it a work of art? Personally, I don’t care what one wants to call it, so long as it sings, speaks, dances, and invites my imagination to participate. I am looking for the poem to transport and transform me. For the poem itself to be an experience.

      Which brings me back to another part of Chris’s comment and the connection I make to it with gendai work. He wrote:

      “The haiku is viewed as a representation of an experience, not an experience itself, an experience that is uniquely available to each reader. Many of the poets whose haiku appear in Modern Japanese Haiku [by Makoto Ueda] do not seem constrained by such limiting definitions and criteria.”

      To me, this also sings of what gendai haiku can offer us and encourage, and is something I have been changed by. Many gendai haiku i’ve read do indeed become experiences themselves. And encourage me to try to create ku that are experiences for the reader (instead of closed circuits/circles that say nearly everything), that are poetically open instead of being so closed and complete and shut off, where the language available to us is truly doing something.

      Gendai haiku also, i think, asks us not to create work that rings of conformity; of security in cliches and tired tunes. Gendai haiku asks us to take more risks, to go deeper. To find the new expression instead of the ones already (over)used.

      Chris went on to note that, “One of the things that engaged me about [Kaneko] Tōta’s work was his grim post-war industrial subject matter and the surreal dislocating effect of his metaphors (people are squids and motorcycles, flowers are vomit, etc.). This was a world that was familiar to me. That made sense to me. That said everything is available to the haiku.”

      I feel this is also vital when discussing gendai work: that gendai makes everything available to us; traditional work tends to constrict and enslave (and while this might be positive and challenging for some, the results tend to be works of cliche, with language that’s overworked, creating poems that do very little). While many might not be engaged or moved by this kind of imagery, many are, especially those not satisfied enough by haiku’s links to Buddhism or objectivity, or who come to it through those things.

      I should start throwing some examples out. I’ll share some examples by Tōta that strike me as having “internal dynamics/energy” and that i find are are experiences unto themselves, with the imaginative and poetic openness i get jazzed about:

      into the heart
      the green of barley
      slowly, slowly

      (trans. by WJ Higginson)

      in the fog a swan
      maybe I should really say
      the swan in a fog

      on a trip to gorge myself
      on salmon, the evening sun
      becomes the sky’s anus

      respiration is
      sucking in this multitude
      of clear-toned cicadas

      (trans. Dhugal Lindsay)

      The river’s teeth go
      from morning to evening
      the river’s teeth go

      Slept well
      till the withered field in my dream
      turned green

      (trans by Ban’ya Natsuishi & Eric Selland)

      My green land
      in the heart of the wood
      is being dug
       
      (trans. by Kazuko Konagai)

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

      a slug
      bathed in an ethereal glow
      near a chicken

      (trans. by Makoto Ueda)

      foggy village—
      if I threw a stone
      my parents would scatter

      (trans. by Fay Aoyagi)

      plum in bloom, and all over the garden blue sharks are visiting

      (trans. Hiroaki Sato)

      The following, taken from Fay Aoyagi’s Blue Willow Haiku World blog, and translated by her, nearly all have kigo or some kind of season word. However, it is the expressions and the poetic techniques that make them “new”, make them open, make them inviting and invite something like 80% of our imagination: make them experiences unto themselves for the reader. Old subject matter and imagery are made new: “composing the new in the grandeur of the old.”

      They play:

      河鹿の音光の糸を伝ひくる    石原八束

      kajika no ne hikari no ito o tsutaikuru

      river frog’s song
      travels through
      a string of the light

      – Yatsuka Ishihara

      頭の中で白い夏野となつてゐる 高屋窓秋

      atama no naka de shiroi natsuno to natteiru

      in my head
      it becomes
      a white summer field

      – Sohshū Takaya

      寂しさをこぼさぬ蠅の頭脳かな   永田耕衣

      sabishisa o kobosanu hae no zunō kana

      a brain of a fly
      which does not spill
      its loneliness

      – Koh’i Nagata

      遊びたくなつて水母でゐるたましひ  佐怒賀正美

      asobitakunatte kurage de iru tamashii

      the soul
      which wants suddenly to play
      stays as a jelly fish

      – Masami Sanuka

      やもりはう暗夜は駅が鼓動する   大西健司

      yamori hau an’ya wa eki ga kodô suru

      on a pitch black night
      when a gecko crawls
      a station breathes

      – Kenji Ohnishi

      ポスターの銃口われに向く夏夜   山田弘子

      posutaâ no jûkô ware ni muku natsuyo

      a gun in the poster
      pointed at me
      summer night

      – Hiroko Yamada

      春愁や母国語になき過去完了    青柳 飛

      shunshû ya bokokugo ni naki kakokanryô

      spring melancholy—
      no past-perfect
      in my mother tongue

      — Fay Aoyagi

      オートバイ荒野の雲雀弾き出す  上田五千石

      ôtobai areno no hibari hajikidasu

      motorcycle flicks
      a skylark
      out of the wasteland

      — Gosengoku Ueda

      & 2 of Fay Aoyagi “Cyber Space Haiku”:

      spring cloud
      I virtualize the infrastructure
      called me

      misty moon
      the algorithm
      to prioritize my feelings

      They play along the edge, not in the center, not in the expected. And they do it through engaging in new expressions that are poetically charged. And, for me, therefore, inviting.

      As for flying popes, flying whales, flying tigers, blue apples, squid peppermints, the queen of violets, neon buddhas, the shark king, invisible circuses or invisible castles, I say go for it. Have readers catch up with you.

      We play there.

  55. Tom,

    “that we non-Japanese read a haiku AS a poem — that is, in light of other poems in our linguistic fields including non-haiku poems. If we START there, I think we can see haiku freshly.”

    Personally, I wouldn’t presume to speak for too many non-Japanese about how we read haiku.

    “I don’t know of any short form other than haiku so marked by this tension, though the sonnet has an inward turn, … .”

    I agree with you totally about a sonnet’s potential for an “inward turn.”

    I’m grateful for your comparisons to western forms that are hugely under-represented in these forums and most other western haiku discussions.

    Bill C

  56. One thing that seems to be emerging from the discussion of gendai — with thanks to Richard Gilbert — is a willingness to read haiku as one would any poem. Unfortunately, an implication of that may be less than likely: that we non-Japanese read a haiku AS a poem — that is, in light of other poems in our linguistic fields including non-haiku poems. If we START there, I think we can see haiku freshly. For my part, if it’s not there in a haiku-looking poem, I miss the “fold” of traditional haiku (as described, say, by Kawamoro in The Poetics of Japanese Verse). The fold configures the tension between the universal/conceptual (e.g. kigo, utamakura, and their Anglo-phone equivalents, etc) and the givens, the particulars–a tension that is essential to consciousness as we understand it (and reflected in language). I don’t know of any short form other than haiku so marked by this tension, though the sonnet has an inward turn, and the Sapphic stanza has a fourth line that often surprises. To my mind, no other short form so compactly “represents” reality in the metaphysical sense.

  57. “But I am interested. I can’t claim any more than that. I will probably have a lot of awkward questions before I begin to get a grasp of what gendai haiku is.
    Lorin”

    as with all things Japanese, “Gendai Haiku” and
    English language ?Gendai Haiku? are two different kinds of shoes, I feel !
    grin grin grin

    Gabi

  58. re ‘Australasian’ haiku (Australia and New Zealand) my heart goes out to Sandra and Lorin.

    After spending several years in Australia my main influences when I discovered haiku were Bill’s Handbook (two copies in a small local library in Ipwich, Queensland); and Machi Tawara (trans. Juliet Carpenter). Needless to say I took out Bill’s book immediately, but I was lucky enough to also see a poster about Ross Clark bringing out his first haiku collection; and later got the first New Zealand Haiku Anthology.

    That was fifteen years ago, and I am still puzzled why some haiku isn’t accepted in the States, yet those outside the USA have no problem doublechecking any unknown American words.

    Perhaps there is a similar problem with Japanese contemporary haiku in that many steer away from anything that doesn’t feel classic.

    I think all the comments have been useful to show there is still a gap in various countries, a huge gap perhaps, regarding modern or contemporary haiku (both reading and writing) from both Japan and outside Japan.

    Gendai haiku has its very important place and deserves to be read.

    Perhaps it is as much a skill in reading as it is a skill for many to read haiku of any kind to who have been brought up to read longer poetry?

    Alan
    With Words

  59. “I say to hell with footnotes *before one’s first experience with a poem*.” Bill

    😉 I’m with you there, Bill. I’m one who actually was enthralled with TS Eliot at a time when he wasn’t at all popular with people ‘in the know’. This by sheer chance, I think. I happened to have his ‘Selected Poems’ in my possession so I read them. I read and reread ‘The Wasteland’,and the ‘Four Quartets’ might’ve actually saved my life in my early 20’s so I cannot criticize it impartially, but I admit to *still* not having read all the footnotes to ‘The Wasteland’.

    ps . . .I don’t want to give you the wrong impression…the editors I mentioned are people who are very kind and whom I have great respect for. I really do think they know something about perhaps the majority of their readers.

    I’m still sorting out my responses/. reactions (and my general ignorance about) the Japanese ‘gendai school’, as I am still sorting out my responses to ‘language poetry’. Slow, yes. But I am interested. I can’t claim any more than that. I will probably have a lot of awkward questions before I begin to get a grasp of what gendai haiku is.

    lorin

  60. Paul Miller, December 10

    “A poem in Gilbert’s book:

    twenty billion light-years of perjury your blood type is “B”

    – Hoshinaga Fumio

    is a further example. Fumio tells Gilbert in the interview that type B blood is considered melancholy. he adds, “I felt my rebelliousness or revulsion could not be blood-type A—it must be blood-type B.” Huh? How could a reader ever be expected to know that? They aren’t mind readers. Likewise I feel that Mikajo’s poem requires some special knowledge that only she can provide. ”

    Strangely enough, maybe, I do connect with this immediately:

    twenty billion light-years of perjury your blood type is “B”

    – Hoshinaga Fumio

    It made an instant connection with me and I often quote this poem to help people get out of the rut of formula haiku or just simply bad writing made to look like ‘haiku’.

    I don’t want to break it down, but it has become a part of me, and is my favourite haiku.

    Read Richard Gilbert’s response on why gendai haiku has such an important role to play, and also consider that Basho may well have written haiku that was closer to gendai haiku rather than the fossilised approach many have to his work and vision.

    Alan

  61. Hi, Bill, I understand where you’re coming from with the long lists of booknotes. I had in mind an asterisk – although I have to tell you that sometimes I discovered wonderful books that I would never have know existed in the foot notes. For those of us with less access to information, they can be useful. But the internet is incredibly easy to use…
    Often when I encounter a word from another culture I’ve noticed that the sound of the word is often more important than its meaning…but I have no problem with information in whatever manner its offered.

  62. I say to hell with footnotes before one’s first experience with a poem.

    T. S. Eliot’s footnotes were a boon for academia but a disaster for American poetry.

  63. “Yes, I have haiku rejected from USA journals, sometimes quite apologetically, because of Australian reference. The general idea is that ‘our readers wouldn’t understand the reference’.”

    Lorin,

    Undoubtedly those same editors would accept a haiku with a reference to an obscure species of plant that grew naturally in some parts of the United States but that most Americans had never heard of. The functional equivalence of the reasons for rejecting one poem and accepting another is almost certainly lost on some of these folks.

    No doubt that submitters are guilty of similar inconsistencies.

    same sun
    the editor as poet
    cursing an editor

    Bill

  64. Also, I think if more haiku with words from different places were published…in spite of the “novel” word…it might go a long way to bring understanding … too bad there isn’t room for a short foot note some places, as I always find these most interesting and often full of resonance.

  65. Thanks Gabi, Sometimes things that sound strange are not strange at all … and I see that close attention to physical reality sometimes holds the clue. 🙂

    Tonight I saw a clip from one of my caving friends on FB that could bring the normal physical world right into the world of the
    gendai haiku. I don’t have the URL but I’m trying to get it. But it’s posted on my FB page for anyone who would be interested.
    It was of a fellow from India by the name of PRANAV MISTRY and he was demonstrating his SIXTH SENSE inventions bringing the physical and the digital worlds into one and the same interchangeable worlds. Pretty amazing stuff. Perhaps gendai may be as ordinary as “mushrooms” in the bedroom some day. A bit scarey for an IT illiterate like me though!

  66. I agree that most poems have references that will be confusing to someone. Some poems are dense with associations almost to the point of opacity. I have no problem with a poet throwing a complicated, culturally or personally specific poem out into the world without footnotes or a bio. Perhaps fewer people will read it through, but for those who do the rewards can be rich. Take for example the work of Paul Muldoon. He’s written more than a few haiku, but I’m thinking of his longer poems, like The More a Man Has the More a Man Wants.

    find the poem here:

    http://www.poetryfoundation.org/archive/poem.html?id=177956

    Without knowing much about the Troubles in Ireland, I found the poem compelling. After some delving into the historical background (one way, after all, to learn about the wider world) I find the poem more compelling, a modern work with much in common with some gendai haiku I have read.

    Pluralism requires readers who are open to what they don’t know.

  67. I wasn’t really suggesting that a gendai haiku contains words that can’t be understood (and anyway as I can read them only in translation there aren’t words that I can’t understand, only perhaps the context in which they are used).

    Perhaps my question should focus more on the points that have been made about the layers of cultural association attributed to gendai haiku – unless the poem is about something very obvious, however, that goes for any haiku because we are all writing about the cultures we are surrounded by and, despite that old global village idea, they are different cultures.

    For instance, I read haiku written by Americans and often don’t know plant names, birds, places, etc. It’s easy enough to do a bit of research to add “reference” to the poem.

    So are we all writing gendai anyway?

    Or is the gendai/modern tag applicable only to haiku that contain surreal elements (although not all the examples fit that either)?

  68. “Yes, I have haiku rejected from USA journals, sometimes quite apologetically, because of Australian reference. The general idea is that ‘our readers wouldn’t understand the reference’.
    Lorin”

    Hi Lorin,
    the WKD tries to introduce the different cultural aspects of words which are used in local haiku !
    But it is indeed a long way until more haiku poets make use of compiling their local saijiki, including topics, keywords and cultural explanations.

    You know where to find me when you get rejected somewhere else for being too “down under”.

    I do not think it makes a haiku GENDAI just to use “obscure” words.

    Long live the footnotes !

    Gabi

  69. …’no mammals before man’ applies to Australia, as well as New Zealand, of course, Sandra. Yes, I have haiku rejected from USA journals, sometimes quite apologetically, because of Australian reference. The general idea is that ‘our readers wouldn’t understand the reference’. It can be something as simple as a place name and poverty and other problems in a certain area, easily googled:

    Uluru –
    barefoot children
    kick at stones

    or the use of ‘ute’ rather than ‘pick-up truck’, or an Australian breed of dog, not even involving other languages. I had one with the NZ paua shell in it, and it was suggested I change that to ‘abalone’, though ‘quahog’ as the nme of a shell was fine. Both are legitimate loanwords that have become part of English. I still throw one or two with Australian things in them with a sub and hope, though. 😉

    But I’m not sure that unfamiliar terms is what makes ‘gendai’ haiku. What’s unfamiliar in one area will be familiar in another and I don’t personally find that an obstacle. Sometimes I see that the slips of people to whom English is not their first language are considered ‘gendai’, but that’s not to do with the Japanese gendai schools, either.

    Gabi’s claim is interesting, that the mushroom haiku is actually quite traditional. If that’s the case, then we’re in the same position as we are when trying to work out whether a Japanese piece (translated, for me, as I don’t have Japanese) is a haiku or a senryu. If the author says it is ‘gendai’, then we accept it is what they say it is? *This* is a difficulty for Westerners, I think.

    Richard’s mention (above in this thread) of the different expectations of Japanese and Western readers helps the penny to drop for me (and would seem to explain also the expectations that some Japanese gendai poets apparently place on the reader), and this will probably be the clincher for the more obscure examples of ‘gendai haiku’ for me: to what extent am I willing to approach a poem (of any kind) via a personal history of its author? I’ve always been much more interested in the poems than the biographies, in any kind of poetry. If the poetry interests me enough, I might read a little biography.

    It’s beginning to look to me as though ‘gendai’ isn’t as contemporary as we might think, since it seems to come from a mindset quite uninfluenced by the C20 ‘death of the author’. In that sense, much of the old ( translated) traditional Japanese haiku seemed very ‘modern’ to the West. Odd, isn’t it?

    lorin

  70. The artist in me is always open to new means of creative expression, so I welcome anything that challenges me in that regard, and I’m fascinated by what some gendai-inspired writers are able to do. On the other hand, issues like shared meaning, which Paul and Michael touched on, and personal authenticity can’t simply be be discarded for the sake of creative expansion.

    I sometimes listen to a college experimental rock station when I’m bored with everything else on the radio. Occasionally I hear something inspiring amidst the interesting or maddening array of noise. Which parallels my experience of gendai-inspired haiku (though music-language analogies can only go so far). Can it rise above sounding like mere wordplay and experimentation for experimentation’s sake. For me the inspiring examples (in English, which is all I feel qualified to comment on) have been pretty rare.

    I look forward to further discussion on the subject, and to Paul’s article.

  71. As a writer at the end of the world, I find the discussion on how Japanese read haiku written in Japanese, the many layers of cultural context and association, fascinating.
    It has long been a frustration of mine, and other haiku writers in New Zealand, that we are so rarely able to have poems published beyond our shores that contain references and images that are wholly associated with Aotearoa.
    The eminent botanist David Bellamy called this country an “ark”, and it surely is with many unique bird/reptile/plant species (no mammals before man) and, of course, we also have the Maori culture which can be similar to other Polynesian cultures, but is also markedly different.
    We haiku writers use what we see and know, yet as this is so unlikely to be what our readers in the US/England or even Australia may know perhaps Kiwis also write “gendai” haiku, although without the supplementary sajiki, etc to assist.
    Generally speaking, I find the “flying pope” series impenetrable, but perhaps Japanese readers (and others) would also wonder about the significance:

    waiting in the wharenui:
    my son’s mihi
    different to mine

    Hmm, perhaps if I was to add a flying whale I might be getting somewhere …

    Joking aside, in practical terms I know I and others in NZ “water down” or somehow “internationalise” our writing to try and achieve publication overseas. And I always silently object to that, even as I do it.

    Editors: More footnotes please!

    My thanks to those who have posted, I am learning a lot from this.

  72. To the readers on this thread, are there any non-haiku english language poetry journals that they think embody the spirit of gendai haiku and which they would recommend?

    I can’t say it better than Merrill did: the posts here have been wonderful!

    Thanks,

    Bill C

    Thanks,

    Bill C

  73. To the readers on this thread, are there any non-haiku english language poetry journals that they think embody the spirit of gendai haiku and which they would recommend?

    Thanks,

    Bill C

  74. in front of the scarlet mushroom
    my comb slips off

    —Yagi Mikajo
    (trans. by Richard Gilbert)

    benitake no
    mae ni waga kushi
    suberi otsu

    This seems quite a “traditional” haiku to me, it has a kigo (benitake) and keeps 5 7 5.

    If you see the “red mushroom” as a male symbol, it is easily to understand . . . grin . . .

    Thanks for bringing the mushrooms into play !
    Gbi

  75. Turns out to be an important discussion. These haiku prove to me that the human being is a many layered creature. I, like Paul, find haiku that relates to something I either know, feel or intuit to be more rewarding… I also have a little difficulty breathing and have more than my share of “out of body experiences” so my inclination is to really enjoy those bits of poetry that can bring me back to a natural state, but with a heightened sense of the possible, not a crash landing. I have often wondered what anyone could ever see in mind-altering drugs since to me the most sublime state is to be well and whole. Yet I also recognize that there are many people who do relate on many levels to poetry that is on many levels of consciousness…we are composed of many senses…
    I really appreciate all the wonderful posts to this discussion.

  76. whoops…thinking and typing away before you posted, Richard, so I didn’t know about your post until after I clicked ‘submit’.

    lorin

  77. The more I read, the more interested I become, though it is indeed a challenge to my received notions of ‘what is haiku?’.

    My first response to this one was ‘so what?’ What’s so significant about yr (Aust.adjective deleted) comb falling out?

    in front of the scarlet mushroom
    my comb slips off

    —Yagi Mikajo
    (trans. by Richard Gilbert)

    But on coming back to it, I find it suggests or implies an extended scenario, mood and state of mind much in the manner that good haiku that I’m more familiar with do.

    It’s not only Japanese women who use combs in their hair (I say that as an ex-hairdresser who notes these things) so while Japanese hair combs may have special significance to the Japanese, to me it’s just the sort of comb that has the function of keeping the hair-do in place, whether the style of comb is Japanese, Spanish, or whatever, whether the comb is decorative as well as functional, ‘invisible’ or not. Think of the photos of Edwardian women with those slightly disheveled up-dos…those styles were held in place with combs as well as hairpins as are French rolls, more casual buns and the like today. Think of, if you want American examples, of Grace Kelly’s up-do, and some of Hitchcock’s cool, blonde heroines.

    One thing we know is that this woman has long hair. So the comb slips off and the hair that it’s been holding in place comes down. Less formal a look, maybe embarrassing in some circumstances, threatening a loss of personal control (such as when one’s in the middle of a dissertation or coming on strictly to a year 10 high school class) maybe erotic in others.

    Given that, how can one take the scarlet mushroom literally? If it was just a scarlet mushroom in the woods and she was alone, no woman would be discomforted or find the occasion anything to remark on. She’d simply twist her hair up again and pop the comb back in.

    So do we have euphemism here? For an engorged penis tip? That’s a possibility I can’t rule out. Another is that it really is just a scarlet mushroom, maybe the sort that grow under pine trees and are hallucinogenic if you can stomach them, but the woman is obsessed with penises for some reason so just the shape of the mushroom brings a penis to mind. That the comb slips off, all by itself, suggests in either case that one’s conscious intentions are being undone by other motivations that one can’t entirely disown, so part of the hidden self is revealed.

    Or maybe it’s much less Freudian, and she’s looking the illustration of the mushroom with the hookah-smoking caterpillar on it in ‘Alice in Wonderland’, and her hair comes down to be more like Alice’s. But I doubt it.

    Well, that was fun. 🙂

    btw, I wrote a ‘non-gendai’ haiku, similar to this one of Yagi Mikajo’s in that it suggests (at least I think it does) a change in a woman via an image of hairdo changing of itself:

    evening primrose –
    hairpins working loose
    from her bun

    (Simply Haiku, last year, when Lenard D. Moore was haiku editor there)

    lorin

  78. Good responses, and an important debate.

    In terms of the Mikajo and Hoshinaga examples above (and referring especially to Paul Miller’s comment), one of the differences between the English-lang. versus Japanese haiku context is that readers in Japan generally expect to learn something of a poet’s era and biography in order to understand or even adequately grasp their oeuvre. That said, “scarlet mushroom” in Japanese is a more overtly sexual symbol — this is revealed in the provided commentaries to the poem, accompanying the English translation.

    Hoshinaga’s “twenty billion light-years…” is obscure also in Japanese, until one studies his work and notes that one of his main themes is war, and further the triumvirate gestalt of “war, innocence, youth” — a theme often presented autobiographically. The poem mentioned is one of his signature works. I empathize with Paul, when he writes, “How could a reader ever be expected to know [certain details of that haiku]?” Which is why Hoshinaga’s own commentary to the haiku is provided. It’s my feeling that we face major translation problems in reading Japanese gendai haiku (and haiku generally) in English, when they are unaccompanied by historical, cultural and often biographical notes and commentary. As well, the poems do not necessarily “stand alone” in Japanese (in the western sense of a purely autonomous artwork), there often exists vectors of reference for which the (intercultural) reader requires information, in order to enter the richer landscapes of authorial intention.

    I think Mikajo and Hoshinaga, like many notable gendai poets, have pushed the form, and in doing so, both refresh the genre and challenge the reader. Having grasped the two haiku mentioned, via study and discussion, I find them to be brilliant. A further thought on this issue — in Japan what separates haiku from senryû most strongly is kigo (not wit or the old trope “nature versus society”). Any given kigo often requires the study of a saijiki (glossary), prior to grasping the haiku — representing a significant difference in reader-process between the Japanese haiku and haiku born elsewhere. The commenter reveals just how significant this difference is, in articulating a sense of frustration or bewilderment concerning the lack of accessibility of the haiku mentioned. Yet this is more a typical reader experience in the Japanese context. Sometimes several different saijiki are consulted, and it’s not unusual for a haiku to require an awareness of biographical information on the reader’s part, before that haiku begins to unfold in multiple dimensions. This topic can be extended to Japanese literature in general, as some linguists have done, in discussing how Japanese writing (including the essay) is “author oriented” (it’s up to the reader to discern what the author intends) versus the European tradition, which is “reader focused” (it’s up to the author to determine that comprehensibility is fairly guaranteed for the reader). This has been discussed by Professor Yoshihiko Ikegami as ” The Japanese Speaker’s Preferential Choice of Subjective Rather Than Objective Construal.”

    Will we write this way in English? I think it’s doubtful. Though there is certainly an edge that is being explored, in terms of ways that haiku resist reader interpretation — this aspect of resistance seems as significant in excellent haiku as any other quality to be found.

  79. Is gendai haiku a style? As a movement, it appears to be defined mostly by what it is not. The possibilities outside the parameters of haiku realism and tradition number more than I can count. Seriously, no sarcasm, can anyone tell me what is gendai haiku outside of a damn good haiku (short poem, ku?) that breaks the rules?

  80. Thanks to the writer and responders for this interesting discussion. I recently led a workshop for members of the Yuki Teikei Haiku Society which consisted in part of discussion of the Scott Metz review noted in the Sailing. As part of the workshop each participant undertook to write one or more gendai haiku. We all found it surprisingly difficult. I tabled

    peace rally
    I stub my toe
    on the Washington Monument

    BTW can anyone tell me how to acquire a copy of The Haiku Universe for the 21st Century? An email in English to the Society was not answered.

  81. Whether they are gendai haiku or not, I agree with Paul that it’s vital to distinguish between poems that take the reader into consideration and those that don’t. This is worth noting both as readers and writers of haiku. (And you may indeed write some haiku for yourself, and some for others.)

    If a poem seems to not take the reader into consideration, though, I would add that such a poem may need to be apprehended, not by itself, but by a larger corpus of haiku by that poet, or in the context of a particular type of poetry. We often think that each haiku has to “stand alone,” and generally that’s a good idea, but we also need not limit haiku to that narrow perspective.

    Indeed, a poem may be requiring things of you that are not in the poem (and not just knowing things like the fact that blood types are a big deal in Japan, and somewhat equivalent to one’s zodiac sign in correlating to personality). For example, some poems by Ban’ya Natsuishi (such as some of the “flying pope” poems) strike me as not taking the reader into consideration, yet they have a different effect when assessed cumulatively, creating a sort of personal mythology and other effects. Whether that cumulative effect is better for some readers or not may be a matter of taste, but I do think the cumulative effect is better for some readers. And that is a fresh way (among many ways) to apprehend each poem than as yet another nature nugget.

    Michael Dylan Welch

  82. In an essay I’ll be publishing next summer I make the distinction between gendai haiku that take the reader into consideration and those that don’t. For example, while the image in the poem:

    Illness in one eye:
    I’m walking
    like a goldfish

    – Ban’ya Natsuishi

    is fantastical, I as a reader can understand it. His ocular problems are giving him distorted images and he feels like he is looking out of a goldfish bowl. This brings into play ideas of entrapment or identity. I don’t need special knowledge that only its author can provide to access this poem. However, for a poem such as:

    in front of the scarlet mushroom
    my comb slips off

    – Yagi Mikajo

    I have no clue what this means. A poem in Gilbert’s book:

    twenty billion light-years of perjury your blood type is “B”

    – Hoshinaga Fumio

    is a further example. Fumio tells Gilbert in the interview that type B blood is considered melancholy. he adds, “I felt my rebelliousness or revulsion could not be blood-type A—it must be blood-type B.” Huh? How could a reader ever be expected to know that? They aren’t mind readers. Likewise I feel that Mikajo’s poem requires some special knowledge that only she can provide.

    Haiku are poems that shift/leap from the known to the unknown. In traditional haiku the leap is usually to something realistic, but I see no problem with poems that shift to the fantastical. However, the reader needs to be considered. While many gendai poems do take the reader into consideration, many in their effort to be fantasitical or strange don’t.

  83. I question the question: why should one respond to a “kind” of haiku rather than each haiku as a poem, or a potential poem (if poem is the sort of name that goes with a certain complex use of language)? I think the question reflects a certain decadence in the Ameriku culture: we are supposed to have an opinion about a KIND of poem. What if we look at each haiku, of whatever kind, just as “a poem” or a perhaps poem? Can we keep our minds from doing that anyway if we are freely engaging in reading for fun and enlightenment? Once we see the lineation, we see “haiku” or some variant (single line, etc), and we start classifying. Against this categorization, the poem SHOULD set up its own resistance–perhaps what we take as a “poem” is a fragment of a novel? or a cry for help?

    For example,

    in front of the scarlet mushroom
    my comb slips off

    —Yagi Mikajo

    is clearly a “poem” by virtue, first, of NOT being another use of language; then by virtue of certain positive aspects, including the sense of fragmentation, though the complete sentence here tugs in the opposite direction. One might, at first glance, sense a feeling for the surreal in “scarlet mushroom”; but “mushroom” has certain tendencies, culturally, and these would have to be sorted out during the interpretive process. The short line, being a short complete sentence, says, “yes, this is a not-that-hard poem”; then, in the opposite direction (it IS hard), we try to integrate that “sentence” into the scene supplied by the first section (speaking haiku structure here!, but that seems inevitable at this point, seeing the author is Japanese and the item “comb” and how it “slips off” conjures up a certain KIND of comb (not an American one). Anyway, we proceed in our sorting process, coming to terms with this bit of language and gradually “feeling” it as if it WERE a “poem.”
    And we should do that with any “poem” we run across.
    In the end, or at the beginning, I’ve been thinking recently, it may beuseful to think of “haiku” as a STANZA form: originally, I suppose that’s what it was. Only really good poets can write a complete poem in one stanza. Basho could, and he set a standard and made it seem like a good think to do.

  84. Despite the minute size of haiku, it certainly is a big tent. I think we should explore every boundary in haiku. By pushing and pulling the form we add to the tensile strength, its relevancy to express the nature/human continuum. Allow the fantastical, the absurd, and the surreal. Allow the logical mind to come unhinged and leap as Merrill said “with wings.”

    In “illness in one eye:/I’m walking/like a goldfish” I get the visual of the poet’s swollen eye like that of a goldfish. But so much emotion comes when the poet states he is “walking like a goldfish.” Goldfish don’t walk in air; they flounder and flop about. This disorientation is at the heart of illness—his eyesight that once functioned one way no longer functions in that same way. How else could he have conveyed his situation?

    Another example from the November 2009 issue of “Roadrunner” is this one-liner by John Stevenson.

    a man in a crowd in a man

    For me this is like the verbal depiction of the fourth dimension. The crowd is the cube in the middle and the man is at once inside and outside the crowd exchanging places in continual motion. We carry this notion of the individual but it passes through culture, though time and space, and comes out the other end as this notion of the individual. This is marvelous stuff.

  85. I like how Murio’s poem creates an identification between the man being killed and the observers of his death. That a part of each of us dies with anyone’s death. This is an effective use of the 2nd person point of view. If Murio had tried to write the poem from the 3rd person point of view

    from the sight
    of the man who was killed
    they also vanished

    The effect is much more muted without any sense that “they” were actually observers of the man’s death. The selective employment of POV seems to make a critical difference in my reading of the poem.

    I like the gendai approach now being encouraged by Gilbert, Metz, and some others. I find some of the gendai poems challenging and difficult to get my hands around. But that’s the whole point of being challenged. Whether the gendai aesthetic retains its influence as it now exists or whether it gets diffused & absorbed over time in the American haiku tradition is an open question. But I for one welcome new sources of artistic energy & inspiration from any country or any culture. At the end of the day, though, it will be American artists who will choose for themselves what they think works best. And they will be the ultimate judges of their own work. They bow to no one.

  86. I don’t connect with the samples given here… they don’t speak to me in a way that poetry sometimes can. So I know that haiku has many levels and as many ways of dealing with it as those who each manner of expression does connect with each group. Hope this makes sense to you all. I know I’m not very clear trying to put my thoughts into words here. But I do not write haiku to fit into any given form. The forms themselves or sort of building blocks to use to construct the haiku. Whatever fits is what I use.

  87. While my instincts always reach back to nature in order to objectify the thing trying to take expression within me there is something that wrestles always with trying to be true to the spirit of the expression. I hate to lable anything or to give anything catagories. I understand where Gabi is coming from and I know that so much more can be said in that framework but I also understand that poetry requires support but it also has wings.

  88. “Is it important to continue looking to Japan for inspiration and education?.”

    If you’re not looking at your own culture first and foremost, then the answer is no.

  89. A few days ago I saw Inahata Teiko, President of the Japan Traditional Haiku Association, on NHK national TV in a haiku program.
    She was musing about her sofu, grandfather Takahama Kyoshi and his heritage, and wheather she had kept it well during all these years she took over …
    In the course of the program, she also stated
    “I will never choose a haiku in a haiku meeting which does not have a season word.”

    I tend to share her opinion.

    I am very much for experimenting with poetry, short form verse, free verse, micropoetry and whatever it is called …
    but Haiku for me will always be much closer to the traditional than to the gendai, where the limits toward other poetic genres are so blurred and “definitions” are rather opinionated.

    I am looking forward to this discussion here !
    Gabi from Japan

    .

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