Applying psychoanalytic theory to haiku, this article explores how haiku might be seen as an attempt to return to the preverbal state of oneness with the world in what Jacques Lacan called the Imaginary Order — doing so with the mechanism of language, which Lacan says begins our entry into the Symbolic Order, where we begin to recognize the separation of self from the world — and while living in Lacan’s Real Order, where objects outside the self are seen as symbols of lack. Ultimately, haiku place us in the fraught position of being caught between possibilities — between lack and oneness, separation and unity. A good haiku, despite the fragmentary syntax often used to present juxtaposed images, offers us the possibility of jouissance, that momentary return to the Imaginary Order and the breakthrough into oneness with the world associated with the haiku moment. At the same time, a good haiku also reminds us that things outside the self, like the images in a haiku, are just as likely to be symbols of lack.
Tomas Tranströmer’s earliest forays into haiku appear in his nine-poem sequence from 1959, Fangelse (Prison). In these brief poems, Tranströmer observes the inmates of the Hällby Youth Custody Center, writing about daily life in the reformation facility. At the same time, Tranströmer uses these intimate glimpses into the quotidian aspects of incarceration to level a trenchant critique of the Swedish prison system. Tapping into the haiku form, and the beneficial discipline it connotes, Tranströmer throws the ultimately damaging discipline of the prison apparatus into harsh contrast, impugning the prison system’s role in contemporary society. Situating Tranströmer’s approach beside Foucault’s assessment of the modern prison, this essay explicates the poems in Fangelse, illuminating the critiques hidden in each, and highlighting the haiku aesthetics that enable Tranströmer’s critiques to function.
James W. Hackett catapulted to international fame in 1964 when he took top honors in the first Japan Air Lines haiku competition. Taken under the wing of R. H. Blyth, he shared the conviction that Zen and haiku are inseparable. A collection of Hackett’s haiku was included in Blyth’s History of Haiku, and a major edition of Hackett’s haiku was published in 1968, but then he retreated from the limelight for fifteen years. He surfaced only briefly when his corpus of haiku was republished in 1993, but he generally remained aloof from the American haiku community. Hackett was unquestionably a pioneer of American haiku. In the mid-1960s, his haiku were among the best being written, but over time they became marginalized. Most Western haiku poets now reject his central tenet of an ineluctable Zen-haiku relationship. In this essay I present Hackett’s biography and bibliography, discuss his haiku aesthetic as laid out in his ars poetica essay “That Art Thou,” and explore his haiku poetics and diction.
In 1940s Japan, haiku poets were persecuted, arrested, tortured and their journals annihilated by the ultranationalist Tennō regime. All victims were advocates of free-verse haiku poetry, which had turned away from the “traditional” stylism of haiku composition. After the war, Takahama Kyoshi (1874 – 1959) became chief editor of the haiku journal Hototogisu, and propagated a return to “tradition,” against the innovative reform efforts of other haiku poets and groups. The persecutions of haiku poets took place during Kyoshi’s presidency of the Haiku branch of the “The Japanese Literary Patriotic Organization” (Nihon bungaku hōkoku kai), a culture-control/propaganda organization. After the war, Kyoshi did not distance himself from his attitudes or apologize for his wartime activities. From 1946, a movement began, whose aim was to bring charges of haiku war crimes to Kyoshi and others.
Haiku has migrated from the country of its origin, and to languages and cultures that seemingly share nothing with Japan, yet the genre is thriving. The most energetic and thriving haiku culture resides in North America. Haruo Shirane, an authority on classical Japanese literature and a provocative writer on the legacy of haiku in the contemporary world, examines some of the changes which haiku has undergone in its travels, and evaluates them in relationship to the standard they might find in today’s Japan. Among the issues he considers are the place of metaphor and other poetic tools in haiku; the necessity of season words and seasonality in contemporary practice; the awareness and inclusion of “self” in English-language haiku; and the need for a “vertical axis” of reference and allusion to create depth. He also considers the broadly different approaches to senryū to be found between cultures.
Bashō’s aesthetic focus over the last fifteen years of his life may be reduced to two fundamental elements, sabi and karumi. The custom is to give sabi the predominant position. However, a complete understanding of his life and work will not be complete unless and until karumi is given proper status. Sabi represents the element which is characterised by the traditional, medieval poetic values based on aristocratic sensitivities, such as mono no aware, yugen, u-shin and sabi itself. Karumi represents the element of the common people whose plain speech and everyday activities provided an immensely rich source for humorous rendering and light-hearted diction of universal relevance.
Everyone knows what haiku look like: three lines of five, seven and five syllables. And so they are — except when they’re not. In fact, haiku in English (more than any other language) has expressed itself in a wide variety of forms, ranging from one to four lines, myriad syllable counts, and a plethora of typographical and linear arrays. In this article, Jim Kacian, a poet known for his innovative approach to haiku form, explores the history of haiku as it has appeared over its first hundred years, and argues for one particular innovation as a viable “second norm.”