Periplum is a section that is devoted to 20th and 21st century haiku from around the world. Periplum is overseen by David G. Lanoue. For an introduction to this section, see Periplum.
Periplum #9: Chie Aiko
BY David G. Lanoue
Last installment, we considered haiku written by Ami Tanaka, a quietly cerebral and intoxicatingly complex poet from Tokyo. Her work appears in a 2009 anthology of twenty-one young Japanese haijin, each of whom contributed one hundred haiku. Another poet appearing in this important collection is Chie Aiko. Whereas Tanaka is a postmodern puzzle-maker whose obtuse creations require—and reward—a great deal of mental exertion on the part of readers to make connections and draw inferences; Aiko is a more traditional poet of sensation and heart. Viewed together, Tanaka and Aiko illustrate the breathtaking range of contemporary Japanese haiku.
Born in 1976, Chie Aiko grew up in Iida City in Nagano Prefecture: a place known for apple trees and puppet theater located in the same high “snow country” that produced an earlier master of haiku in Japan, Kobayashi Issa. As was the case with Issa, snow and ice inevitably find their way into her poetic vignettes, as in this exuberent haiku written in the period 2006 – 2009.
yukikaki no shi-age ya noki no tsurara nagu
done with snow-shoveling
from the eaves
Aiko’s final word in Japanese, the verb nagu, denotes the action of mowing down an enemy. Her hard and tedious work of snow-shoveling finished, the poet attacks the eaves’ icicles in an energetic, sensuous moment of destruction. The reader imagines the crashing and shattering of the ice, as the shovel-wielding samurai-girl hacks joyfully at her dangling “enemies.” The icicles might be thought of as pointed swords getting smashed to pieces or—perhaps an even better imagining—as precious, fragile sculptures glistening in the sunlight, which makes their wanton destruction all the more fun, being an act of pretend vandalism: delightfully naughty. In Freudian terms, Aiko savors a flash of sponteneity in which the id is given free reign. In Japanese culture, where the passion-smothering superego usually rules, this letting-go of control, this giving-in to primal aggresion, is both therapeutic and joyful. The shovel’s victims drop one by one, crashing to the ground, and the reader can imagine (I certainly do!) the poet roaring her war-cry.
In the next haiku, also written in the past few years, Aiko evokes another moment of wildness, this one involving an irresistable gust of wind that precedes a summer storm.
tori ichi wa fuki-agaritari hi kaminari
one bird gets blown
sky-high . . .
thunder while the sun shines
Caught in the strong updraft, the bird soars up and up to a dizzy height—like an unwilling Icarus who, to our minds and perhaps even to the bird’s mind, has soared too high. The poet watches and her heart soars with the bird. Meanwhile, striking a rumbling bass note to underscore and balance the airy lightness of wind and bird, thunder cracks and rolls. The two last words of the haiku in Japanese are represented by the kanji “sun” (hi) and “thunder” (kaminari), a compound that denotes the sound of thunder while the sun is shining. The haiku thus poses a disconcerting alignment of sun and thunder, casting the scene in a weird and magical light. I recall my grandmother’s expression that she always used whenever rain fell while the sun was out: “The devil’s beating his wife.” Rain shouldn’t fall while the sun shines, nor should thunder rumble. And, little birds shouldn’t fly as high as this one is being swept, higher and higher—taking along with it the poet’s heart and ours: a bright, thrilling, unreal moment just before darkness and deluge.
In a third example from her 2006 – 2009 period, Aiko juxtaposes the human world with that of Nature.
bôyô to naitaa no hi ya minato made
the night game’s lights . . .
they reach the harbor
On one side, we have the human realm with its night baseball game and blazing artificial lights that flood the heavens. On the other side is the harbor: the gateway to the ocean and primordial Nature, stretching to darkness and infinity. Perhaps the poet is a star-lover griping about the light pollution of cities. She would like to see the stars, but even here, far from the stadium where she stands facing the sea, the lights of the human world and human “progress” extend and obliterate. These manufactured lights are described as bôyô: a compound word consisting of the cognates for “wide” and “ocean”; together they denote something that is vast, without limits, boundless. The poem seems to be an ironic reversal of a famous haiku by Matsuo Bashô, which also was written at the edge of the sea:
araumi ya sado ni yokotau ama-no-gawa
a rough ocean—
stretching to Sado Island
the Milky Way
In Bashô’s poem, the light of “Heaven’s River,” the Milky Way, overarches and glitters all the way to Sado Island, but in Aiko’s haiku it is the artificial light of a baseball stadium that stretches overhead: human vastness trumps Nature’s vastness, if only for a while; human light takes away the stars. Whereas Bashô experienced the sublime in his seashore moment, Aiko’s opportunity to do the same has been washed out by the faraway light towers. Perhaps these lights are an annoyance to her (and to us) or, just possibly, they shine as a brave testimonial to our human presence on this planet: brief electric candles that announce and celebrate our lives in the dark eternity of the universe, as if to tell anyone who wishes to look, if only for now, only for a while: “We are here, we people of Earth. Play ball!”
Notes & Works Cited
I thank Keiji Minato for looking this over and offering corrections.
Aiko Chie. 相子智恵。Three haiku. English translations by David G. Lanoue. The Japanese originals appear in 『新選２１』(Shinsen 21).邑書林, 2009. 163-73.
Matsuo Bashô 松尾芭蕉。”a rough sea . . .”, trans. David G. Lanoue; Japanese text taken from 『松尾芭蕉集』 Matsuo Bashô shû, ed. Imoto Nôichi and Hori Obuo. Tokyo: Shogakukan, 1995；rpt. 2003. Vol. 1, 287.
• Periplum #1: Keiji Minato
• Periplum #2: Petar Tchouhov
• Periplum #3: Masahiro Koike
• Periplum #4: Fay Aoyagi
• Periplum #5: Jean-Pierre Colleu
• Periplum #6: Casimiro de Brito
• Periplum #7: Saša Važić
• Periplum #8: Ami Tanaka