Essences began as a column written by Carmen Sterba in the North American Post in Seattle, WA, a bilingual newspaper in Japanese and English. Its purpose is to go back to the roots of the “haiku movement” in North America: the major poets, the individual styles of haiku, the books, the journals and conferences as they evolved from the sixties and seventies onwards. This will be a short version, so feel free to add information and comments as we go along.
BY Carmen Sterba
Primarily it is a poem; and being a poem it is intended to express and evoke emotion… haiku is a very short poem . . . more concerned with human emotions than with human acts, and natural phenomena are used to reflect human emotion.
—Harold G. Henderson
Interest in writing haiku in English was not only fanned by the resurgence of curiosity towards Japanese culture in the fifties and sixties, but also by the new books on haiku poetics written by three men in North America. One was called the “Father of the American haiku,” another was a Japanese-American student who wrote a thesis on haiku at the University of Washington, and the third, a prolific Canadian haiku poet who has been instrumental in the growth of haiku in Canada.
Harold G. Henderson (1889-1974) was a professor at Columbia University, an expert on Asian Art and a translator of Japanese who began writing haiku in the 1930s. Henderson wrote The Introduction of Haiku: An Anthology of Poems and Poets from Basho to Shiki (’58) and Haiku in English (’65). He was a leader and mentor to many in the haiku community and co-founded The Haiku Society of America in 1968 with Leroy Kanterman. The following haiku appeared in Haiku West, 1968 and in the Haiku Society of America’s Haiku Path, 1994:
The scent of lilacs —
and two white heads, together,
among the heart-shaped leaves.
Kenneth Yasuda (d. 2002) a Japanese-American born in California published his haiku book, A Pepper-Pod (’47) after his internment during WWII. In 1957, he published The Japanese Haiku: Its Essential Nature, History, and Possibilities in English. Part of Yasuda’s theory was what he coined the “haiku moment.” He went on to study his masters at the University of Tokyo and became a professor at Indiana University. Here’s a sample of Yasuda’s Haiku on the Mississippi River from The Japanese Haiku:
Under the low grey
Winter skies water pushes
Water on its way
Canadian Eric Amann, who wrote The Wordless Poem in 1969, is a haiku poet who founded two haiku journals, Haiku and Cicada and also co-founded Haiku Canada with Betty Drevnoik and George Swede in 1977. Amann was the first president of Haiku Canada. From Zen haiku he has branched out into experimental verses (experiskinno). The following are two of each style:
the stone angel points his hand
at the empty sky
(Modern Haiku, 1978)
wild raspberry taste on the tip of your tongue
(Cicada Voices, 52)
Whose books were the most influential ones when you first studied about haiku? Why?
In The Japanese Haiku, Yasuda wrote, “Non-Japanese could write haiku if they understood something of its aesthetics and power.”
How can we maximize the powerful side of this delicate art of haiku?