Skip to content

Haiku Chronicles


Haiku Chronicles is a new podcast series presented by Donna Beaver and Alan Pizzarelli. The series will “explore English-language haiku and its related forms” and is “devoted to a better understanding and appreciation of these poetic forms in the English language.”

The podcast website also has its own blog & archives here.

Episode 1 is a presentation of a lost (or misplaced) studio recording of haiku read by Al Pizzarelli, Cor van den Heuvel, Anita Virgil, William J. Higginson, and Penny Harter at Studio 198 in Newark, New Jersey.

It is interesting to hear what these poets were up to at that time and to listen to them reading their own work.


Episode 2 is a presentation and discussion on Matsuo Bashô’s “old pond” ku:

                                    furu ike ya kawazu tobikomu mizu no oto

Thirty translations of which can be found here.

For haiku poets and readers everywhere, the poem is much revered and heavily trodden. It certainly is though, and always will be, worth revisiting.

The podcast continues to support and promote though the extremely narrow and
limited idea and definition that haiku is “a direct observation of a moment keenly perceived,” ignoring the fact that a haiku can derive from memory, imagination, the subconscious, subjective feelings, or allusions, to name a few. In fact, this definition denies that a haiku is carefully constructed, manipulated and/or revised: that it is language. It seems that the above definition of haiku is the type we get when haiku is interpreted strictly through a Zen point of view, based on hyper-realism and objectivity. In which case, it marginalizes other paths and ways to composing great haiku and denies their importance and artistic merit.

Also, what exactly is “a moment”? What exactly is “nature”?—and how is it different than human nature? It would have been interesting to hear discussions of these kinds of questions in relation to this ku by Bashô.

By belittling the use of “poetic devices,” “intellectual statements” and “made-up ideas
” in haiku composition, Pizzarelli ignores all the movements and directions haiku took before and has taken in the centuries following Bashô’s ku, most especially by Japanese poets in the 20th century, and, in a way, attempts to freeze the definition of haiku to one poem written in the 17th century and have it apply to all haiku. Yes, “limitations make for power,” but breaking the rules and limitations can make for great freedom, power, enlightenment and art as well.

Also, strangely enough, there is no mention of the fact that Bashô himself utilized a poetic devise (cuttings/kire) in “furuike ya,” or that this creates a juxtaposition in the ku (another “poetic device”). And what about the alliterative use of the “o” sound—another “poetic device,” this time language based. For a fascinating new, non-traditional read and interpretation on this lauded poem, click here to watch and listen to Hasegawa Kai’s take on it, where he brings into question the “realism” of this poem, as well as concepts of cutting/kire and ma (an interval/betweeness) and their effects on the poem.

Also, nowhere is it discussed on the podcast that the first part of the poem (furuike ya/old pond) was actually decided upon in consultation with other poets, after the ku was already only partially conceived elsewhere (it is said that the original first line, suggested by someone else, was “kerria rose”; and that Bashô had only written and brought to them the second section of the poem: kawazu tobikomu mizu no oto (100 Frogs, Hiroaki Sato, 1983). In fact, master Ogiwara Seiesensui once argued (Modern Japanese Poets and the Nature of Literature, Makoto Ueda, 1983) that that is all the poem should have been: kawazu tobikomu mizu no oto/a frog jumps in—the sound of water [trans. Hiroaki Sato]. An interesting thought and argument.

Knowing that this first line was discussed with others and bounced around, after “the moment,” how does this change and affect our reading of it? What does this do to the idea discussed and promoted in the podcast of it being “directly observed”? How is this ku then an example of enlightenment? Also, it should be noted that, because of the openness of the Japanese language, it is possible that the frog is, instead, frogs (plural). This, though, would diminish from the traditional “Zen” reading. A big no, no, it seems.

It would have been interesting to hear about this and Bashô’s choices and use of these poetic devices and what effects they have on the poem and, most especially, our readings and plentiful translations of it.

It is wonderful to see a podcast on haiku now being produced and it will be interesting to see where it goes and how it develops. Beaver’s facts and insights into Northwest Native American art motifs and how it relates to haiku was fascinating to listen to. Hopefully though more conversations will take place that attempt to discover new, different, expansive and inclusive ways in which to read, interpret and write haiku, instead of continuing to go down the already well traveled, and narrow, roads.

Back To Top