Amid the death and destruction of the World War 1 battlefields, amid the mud, blood and chaos young men in the trenches were writing poetry, including haiku. How had haiku moved from Japan to western Europe and how established was it in the early years of the 20th century? And in this centenary year of the battles on the Gallipoli peninsula (in Turkey in 2015, with the Somme in 2016 and Passchendaele in 2017), it is timely to consider the way haiku can be used as tool for remembrance and honouring.
TTheorists and critics such as John Berger, Sabine Gross and Michel Foucault have emphasized the very different experience that occurs when a text is approached through a viewing or a reading mode. The extent to which both modes are used alters the experience again. The characteristics and history of haiku encourages extensive use of both modes. Whether reading or viewing is emphasized depends on variables that include the writing system(s) used, the language, orientation and shape on the page, and the number of lines. In order to understand the varying effects of employment of these modes, the Japanese aesthetics of jo ha kyū will be applied to original and translated haiku by English poets and haiku written by the Japanese masters. An aesthetic formulation applied to various traditional arts such as Nō drama, the current interpretation of jo ha kyū can be roughly translated as “beginning, breaking or developing, and rushing to an end”; indicating that the activity begins slowly, speeds up, and then concludes very swiftly. Today, jo ha kyū tends to be considered as applicable only to the movements that occur in temporal-based theatre. However, it was originally applied to literature and is still very pertinent to the haiku form. In addition, the older Chinese principles of fu bi xing from which jo ha kyū originated illuminate further the process of reading and/or viewing haiku.
The short, difficult life of Masaoka Shiki coincided with a turbulent period in Japanese political and cultural history. In the wake of the “opening” of Japan to the West, the country was flooded with new ideas from abroad that prompted the young Japanese artists and literati — Shiki squarely among them — to reconsider traditional genres of painting and poetry. Shiki’s best-known contribution to this cultural revolution at the turn of the 20th century was his study and revitalization of haiku and especially his theory of shasei, or “sketch from life.” This essay explores the aesthetic sources of shasei and traces the influences that Shiki’s ideas had on his followers in Japan and abroad.
Considering the question of whether haiku can be deconstructed, two readers offer dueling close readings of two classic Japanese haiku and two contemporary American haiku. Though haiku, built out of pure image, seem to avoid making or privileging any definitive claims, they are also made out of the slippery element itself, language, and they test and call into question the very conventions that seem to govern the form. Ultimately, we find common ground in the notion that haiku are provocative and suggestive enough — and self-aware enough about the nature of language — to make the genre itself a kind of deconstructive practice. Even (or especially) in a genre that uses so few words, language repays close attention to the ways in which every utterance communicates more than it, or we, can ever know.
A live interview at Cor’s apartment in New York City scheduled for July 2014 was cancelled for medical reasons, but the opportunity wasn’t lost: the questions prepared for the occasion were offered to him in October 2015, and his answers over the next 3 months yielded this slow-motion dialogue.