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The Kindness of Strangers 5: On Culture and Austerity

bowlThe idea that great art is best created in austerity carries a romantic view of poverty. The notion of the struggling writer, penning beautiful poetry in squalor, certainly has a truth in haiku.

Writing haiku can sometimes be easy and other times difficult. Occasionally poetry just comes flying towards you in abundance like a wave of butterflies on a summer’s morning in an array of colors, imagination and life. At other times the pen is hard to lift, even with the greatest effort.

In a comfortable life we might get complacent and possibly less creative. If the necessities of life are not so plentiful, we feel grateful for the things we get and angry about the losses in life.

Crisis can fuel creativity, but lack of opportunities can also wear a creative soul out. Haiku master Kobayashi Issa often explores poverty and creativity in his poems:

that gorgeous kite

the beggar’s shack

In a shower

in late fall a mute beggar

taps his bowl

a world of dew,

and within every dewdrop 
a world of struggle

in the beggar’s tin 
a few thin copper coins 
and this evening rain

a world of grief and pain:
flowers bloom;

even then . . .

A contemporary haiku poet who has witnessed austerity up close is Karma Tenzing Wangchuk. He writes haiku much in the same vein as the old masters, with a modern take:

dark alley—
a large cardboard box

melts in the rain

the beggar

holding out his hand—
this too is work

food bank

the wall we lean against

worn smooth

Palm Sunday—

the signs says FREE FOOD

but you have to kneel for it

March winds

the butterfly and I—
struggle on

—Anna Maris


The Kindness of Strangers is a six-part series by Swedish poet Anna Maris of haiku written in consideration of poverty, homelessness, begging and our responses to these issues.

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This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. love ‘a world of dew’, ‘this too is work’ and ‘Palm Sunday’; really all of them are wonderful. Thank you for sharing them.

  2. It is true that sometimes we can experience suffering in art in romantic terms – perhaps part of being young, once upon a time. I don’t know. I think of Joni Mitchell’s early Blue album, and remember she spoke of how vulnerable she was then. So transparent. As she has shared from the perspective of being older now – I believe she is 70 or 71 – she has filled in more of the details from her personal life and health problems, beginning with polio when young. And her life from poverty to great success, as the world views success. I still remember hearing her music for the first time when in junior high. She is a painter as well.

    When I went through my hardest years so far, sometimes I’d read something and want to say, “There is no romance in suffering. It hurts.”

    Every journey is individual and every poem so worthy. Always more to learn, and another journey – even if from a hospital room, looking out the window or at a painting on the wall. The face of a loved one.

    Thank you, Ellen

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