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Expectations for haiku in the new year, Part 2

Since Charlie mentioned HSA President Ce Rosenow in his answer I’d like to start off this next post with Ce’s reply to my question, “What are your hopes for American haiku over the next year?”

“I have many hopes for American haiku, but one hope is that it will become more integrated with American poetry in general,” she said.

This hope is one that many share, including one of my all-time favorite poets, Gary Hotham, whose book Breath Marks: Haiku to Read in the Dark, I’ve been reading and re-reading for years.

“I hope the American haiku is taken more seriously by the literary world.  I would hope that the sophisticated understanding and appreciation of the genre present  in the world of the English language haiku and the skill of those writing them will become more widespread,” he wrote in an email.

Both Haiku North America cofounder Michael Dylan Welch and Haiku Foundation President Jim Kacian have expressed similar hopes to me on different occasions. This is obviously an urgent concern in the haiku world.

So, one of my New Year’s resolutions will be to help this along in any way that I can. But I have one question first. Why do you think haiku gets a smaller piece of the pie?

This Post Has 13 Comments

  1. The first thing we need to do, before we begin, is prepare the ground for the new season’s crops. In other words, we clear the fields and till the soil and abandon the use of of chemical additives. We go organic, as Basho discovered to be the way forward when he revolted against the puerile decadence and vainglorious usury of the Edo period’s facile floating escapism. It’s not about poetry, it’s about consciousness, as mentioned earlier: It’s also about shrinking our egos. This is the Western problem, which now infects the world. Everyone wants to be special. This is a gross error that pure haiku eschews (like the plague). This is the way to achieve recognition for this beautiful thing we call haiku, in the debatable citadel of Western literary history. But, that’s not important compared to the cultivation of impeccable natural sincerity (makato). Let’s give the people something worthwhile, for God’s sake, beyond consumerism’s manic reflection. Let’s provide a purpose beyond fruitless, self-serving fantasy.

    Google: HAIKU About 66,600,000 results (0.21 seconds)


  2. Haiku is in the same state it was when Shiki noticed the same durind his day. ELH is undefined, lacks consistentcy, many have jettinsoned nature altogether, and most are forgettable. One and two haiku are a slap in the face to a genre that wants to be taken seriously by the mainstream. Many lack the aesthetics necessary to unearth the unsaid.
    Too many people are threatened when someone disagress with the status quo. And can be very mean.

  3. We certainly have a lot of different opinions; however, I don’t think that having different a different focus on haiku among haiku poets is so detrimental to the image of haiku outside of Japan. Instead, it is the disregard for the depth of haiku by promoting that it is easy to write by teaching it as a word exercise in schools. And, perhaps, just because it is so brief. Maybe, that’s why long verse poets just don’t get it. We certainly have a lot of different opinions; however, I don’t think that having different a different focus on haiku among haiku poets is detrimental to the image of haiku outside of Japan. Instead, it is the disregard for the depth of haiku by promoting that it is easy to write by teaching it as a word exercise in schools. And, perhaps, just because it is so brief.

    How different the regard is towards haiku in America and Japan! In Japan, when I would mention haiku, everyone would say writing haiku is extremely difficult because of the use of archaic words. I know this is true, because I have assisted in translation of haiku and senryu into English for two, year-long projects: Tokeiji Temple’s runaway women’s senryu and a Californian first generation Japanese-American’s haiku. In both cases, the Japanese who assisted me struggled with the connotation of the words especially the words of the Tokugawa senryu, but also for the Japanese-American Issei’s haiku. I’ve said this before, but tanka and haiku are a foundation of Japanese culture that Japanese people either revere highly or think is old fashioned now, but no one thinks they are easy to write.

    In America (perhaps it is better in Canada and the UK), we all know that haiku are most often seen as a little ditty in 17 syllables, something more like a limerick. I was once told by a teacher in Pennsylvania, that the schools only teach haiku in the lower elementary grades because it is too simple for middle school and beyond. This is our real problem, as I see it, and we will never be able to fill the gap between haiku’s prominence and reverence in Japan and in the West. However, we can do as well as we can in our own national or regional organizations to promote the lesser known attributes of haiku such as juxtaposition, suggestion, reverberation, allusion, etc.

    Robert, there are very few overseas haiku poets in the HSA at this time. The many European and Oceanic countries have quite strong groups of their own and often different focuses. That’s true of the Canadians, too. I think this diversity is wonderful!

    There is not much time to thoroughly go into one other matter that has been mentioned, but I will say a few words. I have a wealth of books on the modernization of Japan from the late 1800s; however, I have never heard Japan described as having a “German based university system.” As I attended two universities in Japan and taught at five, I know personally about the establishment of the many of the first modern universities. I can say with confidence that Confucianism was the core of University of Tokyo and Japanese public schools. Christianity was the core of Ferris University and Kanto Gakuin University started by American missionaries. Bunkyo University was started by Buddhists. It was Japanese leaders such as Fukuzawa Yukichi who started Keio University and Okuma who started Waseda University. To name just the ones I have taught at or visited myself.

    The Japanese leaders who went on fact-finding missions to Europe and the US, did find that Germany was stronger in the medical field than Holland, which the Japanese scholars had been influenced by during the Tokugawa era. It is true that especially German medicine became prominent because even now many Japanese doctors know German. Germany was also influential towards the laws for modernizing Japan. However, in literature, the influence was more from France and Britain. I’m not saying that there was no influence from Germany, but a look at the numbers of the most prominent foreign teachers in Meiji (by the lists of those interned at Yokohama Foreigners Cemetery or Aoyama Cemetery in Tokyo) will show more British and Americans and few Germans in Meiji and Taisho eras. Some of my sources are Marius Jansen’s The Making of Modern Japan and The Cambridge History of Japan, Vol 5.

  4. I do not anticipate the recognition, appreciation and acceptance of haiku written in the English language by the wider readership of poetry written in English in the forseeable future. The problem is fundamental and reflects the differences between oriental and occidental ways of viewing creation.

    To appreciate a haiku by the Japanese masters requires a change in the way we read poems. We become participants, not witnesses, in the act and process of creation. What we must bring to the act of reading is not just a conditioned sense of what is beautiful with our intellect, our memories and our imaginations. We must also come to the piece being read with our own creative selves that does not shy away from mystery, white space, silence.

    The difficulty is reflected in how writers, attempting to write haiku in English have modified the traditional Japanese aesthetic practices to suit themselves instead of extending the way they have previously perceived and thus tried to interpret things. To express the same problem in a religious context, the writer of haiku in English has tried to create God in his/her own image instead of letting God be God. A new genre is created called ELH, which strikes me as a figleaf behind which one conceals one’s nakedness before creation.

    Things will change when writers of haiku express themselves with wonder, humility, connectedness instead of as rapists and conquerors of a ‘lesser civilisation’.

  5. This follows on from Don’s wise comment. He’s talking the truth of the matter – as is. Here’s my own personal take on global haiku’s mess and an understanding of what can possibly be done about it. . . .

    We need to isolate the one essential ingredient of haiku and build from there in the absence of self. The ‘haiku engine’. This fundamental is not haiku, it is applied to form haiku by the addition of a fistful of basic and essential, formal and procedural elements.

    Unless we build from this foundation up, haiku is doomed to consumerism’s self-obsessive debauchery. This is psychologically harmful if practiced over time, especially so on a daily basis (or lifestyle). (Check it out on the social network sites and elsewhere on the internet.) We have a great responsibility to correct this absurd situation – it’s not a small thing:

    Google: HAIKU About 66,600,000 results (0.21 seconds)

    Haiku functionality requires, as we know (or should know), a powerful form of meditation (rarely mentioned directly or seriously in the literature). If any meditation technique is performed wrongly it will cause harm to the student over time. This harm manifests in an insidious, overweening vanity, which produces strife, both within the student and in the social arena of their influence. (Consider the history of haiku in the West.) Wrongly applied, meditation, in the form of haiku-vision, will produce or amplify a subliminal psychotic mental state with concomitant phsysiological malfunction. So gradually incursive that it can be imperceptible to the practitioner. However, as we know, correctly applied, haiku-vision will (not can) evolve the student.

    The openly concealed clue to all this is in Basho’s powerful statement regarding the pine and shifting consciousness, via concentration and meditation, into the empathic contemplation of it:

    “Go to the pine if you want to learn about the pine, or the bamboo if you want to learn about the bamboo. And in doing so, you must leave your subjective preoccupation with yourself. Your poetry issues of its own accord when you and the object have become one – when you have plunged deep enough into the object to see something like a hidden glimmering there. However well-phrased your poetry may be, if the object and yourself are separate – then your poetry is not true poetry but a semblance of the real thing.”

    He knew what he was talking about. The floating world of Edo, as showcased in the social literary gatherings of that Japanese cultural period, had become what we are experiencing currently in global haiku. We have no records (to my knowledge) that this great man taught the deeper mysteries and techniques of Nippon mysticism (and the consequential results of malpractice). What we do know is that he revolted against the historical elitism of prior forms of social versification and, subsequently, the street-level decadence which replaced it. (His conclusion is writ large in the quote above.)

    We need to build it all again, from the bottom up. Only then can we develop and evolve haiku into a post-Basho future – for the benefit of the people (and, I must add, with a clear conscience).


  6. “Why do you think haiku gets a smaller piece of the pie?” ~ gene meyers

    “United we stand: divided we fall” … sums it up for me. Until the haiku community is truly and deeply united as to what haiku is and isn’t, it will deteriorate into the space between the stars. The lack of consensus, the “in fighting”, the fragmented definition(s), the failed thought that haiku is anything the poet says it is and a list of problems that continues beyond the beginning of light contain the reasons haiku is not and will not be main stream: nothing will change any time soon, either … so it seems, sadly.

    Basho’s, et al, hokku has aesthetics and design: Shiki’s haiku modified the design: today, there is no design, except for the failed design of anything goes!

    What is really missing? What is holding haiku (hokku a different beast) back? Answer (?): the lack of identity! This is plain and simple, frankly. We need to work hard at developing a unified identity for haiku (and hokku, both). The only way they will become part of our daily culture is through being clearly defined as to what they are. That’s how things work, in general. The clearer the presence/definition of something, the greater the understanding of it. Through greater understanding, there will be expanded participation. First, we have to comprehend how this simple but powerful theory works.

    When one says “cinquain”, it has identity and easily associated with as a result. The same thing occurs with other types of poetry. But not haiku. When one says “haiku”, there are dozens of responses as to what it is. That is the problem. And, until we resolve that, nothing will change.

    My fingers are still crossed … but that won’t do it either. Humbleness and sincerity must sit down at the table. Appreciation to Japan and the folks that brought us these wonderful poetic arts – haiku/hokku – must occur in our hearts. What is hokku? What is its aesthetics? What is haiku? Who invented it? What did he say about it? Should we follow his way if he is the inventor? Or, do we take liberty and mold it into anything we want? Is that disrespectful? Is it progress? Is there a one line sonnet? Is there a one word sonnet? Is hokku haiku?We need to think things through while being fair and respectful to the genres, hokku, haiku, tanka, haiga, haibun and the rest. We must sit down for the sake of the art and not for the continued expansion of our egos. We have to make haiku more important than the individuals involved attempting to define it.

    “United, we stand: divided, we fall.”

    Just thinking out loud a bit. I mean no offense to anyone … I assure you. And thank you to all who have put so much of your lives and energy into the development of haiku/hokku. I greatly appreciate those efforts: I know many, many folks around the spinning globe do as well.

    all the best to everyone … cheers,


  7. Until the Anglo Western and Anglo-Oceanic English language haiku groups highly influenced by the HSA can agree on a definitive definition in detail, it will not be taken seriously by the mainstream literary community. In Japan, thanks to the colonization by the German based university system, shared world-wide, the Japanese too are going through an identity crisis. Haiku, due to the lack of a clear definition, has become a WHATEVER you want to write in one, two, three, or four lines, that nowadays can be a senryo, haiku, surrealist, Imagist free verse,or even consist of one or two words. Kigo has taken back-seat and are often considered unnecessary. This may be one of the reasons haiku is taught so haphazardly in the public schools. Nobody knows what the hell a haiku is these days and those who attempt to academically define the genre that is WHATEVER, are criticized and castigated, sometimes cruelly, by people without definitive answers. Thank God for scholars like Richard Gilbert, Robin Gill, and the late Michael F. Marra who seek the truth.. Be sure to read the soon to be published January issue of Simply Haiku (semi annual) where I will address the issue you are discussing, in great detail. in this issue as well, you will read a detailed analysis of Svetlana Marisova’s poetry and learn a lot more about her as a person, that you are not familiar with.

  8. thanks for the post, Gene. I share Ce Rosenow’s wish.

    I’m heartened that Diane Wakoski is serving on the panel for the Touchstone Awards for Individual Poems, and that Barbara Louise Ungar is on the Touchstone Distinguished Book Awards panel. Both have received acclaim for their long poems (as we around here affectionately term poems longer than several words). Wakoski has published over 40 books, last time I counted. They’ve involved themselves with our project at THF because, I think, they are passionate about haiku and curious where English-language practitioners will take the genre.

    Why do I think haiku gets a “smaller piece of the pie?”
    Haiku are small. People assume they are simple and that’s all. Not so. The very shortness of the genre allows us to explore nuances not immediately evident, resonances easily overlooked. Not to worry! They are there to be discovered. I expect they will be.

  9. “Why do you think haiku gets a smaller piece of the pie?”
    Maybe because it is such a “small poem” . . .
    Maybe ELH has taken such a different turn than Japanese haiku ?
    Maybe . . . many things come to mind.

  10. I find it extremely strange that main line Western poets dip into haiku to learn what they can learn but then jump back into their own styles…I think it has something to do with voice. By the time a poet reaches a degree of recognition s/he has developed a voice that that poet finds is a credible vehicle for his art. I think if we concentrate of each of us finding our own voice and recognizing the value of these voices, and promoting them in the same way poetry rewards its poets haiku too will be taken seriously… one of the reasons THF is so important. It goes into developing libraries, education programs, and on and on and on. There’s a glass ceiling for any artist and it comes when he is either recognized by his community or not…and the amount of support those artists are recognized and in the way they are recognized will be the degree haiku itself is recognized. It’s a big job. All any of us can do is what we can do and I am grateful for those who are in a position to help this along. It’s a slow road. How many haiku poets “took it seriously” untill they picked up that slim volume of haiku someplace and it opened their eyes. When you read a book…talk about it to your friends…drop it in the book drops… send it to the VA hospitals… place them in motel bed tables….

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