WHR Jan 2017
January 2017 Winter Issue
White clematis by Susumu Takiguchi
Editorial - on this page
Everybody knew that the world was mad. Sometimes, though, some people needed to be reminded of it. 2016 was the year when no such reminder was necessary. 2017 may prove even worse. This is primarily because in the New Year the players and the sequence of possible events intent upon making our dear world madder will be in place. These include ongoing relentless phenomena of climate change. Against such sombre background, I wish to send you the New Year greeting but with some sombre spices.
In such a time of madness, which is “always” since the beginning of time, we should cling to that which has a sporting chance to escape it. How many instances of human activity would fall into this precious category vary according to the degree to which one is pessimistic or optimistic. Haiku is definitely one such instance.
The beauty of haiku is in its final analysis the detachment it has from things themselves. To put it the other way around, haiku is not haiku if it loses its detachment, at least in its essence. This important point has largely been missed or lost outside Japan. The outlook of a true haiku poet is that of a bystander. In this way he or she can be in a position to observe the mad world but immune to the disease of madness.
You may recall that Basho, coming across an abandoned baby on one of his journeys, just passed it by without so much as give it a cuddle or spare it some of his meagre food. The important point here is that he was full of compassion on the baby. Therefore, it is wrong to blame Basho for lacking in the normal human sympathy or empathy. He was merely detached as a true haiku poet from what is going on in the world.
This pauses a difficult question to a modern haiku poet outside Japan who has no Japanese sensibility or religious inkling. He or she might well ask what is the point of haiku if its author cannot be the very person who is the architect of a particular event or at least someone who is involved in it and writes haiku in that capacity. This in fact is a very good question the answer to which would determine the fundamental stance of a haiku writer in the 21st century and even beyond. It would also influence the familiar polemic over whether or not “self” should be allowed to enter a particular haiku poem. Detachment is different from the lack of self.
I suspect few outside Japan talk about the sense of detachment in haiku. You may well be told about it for the first time in this Editorial. It constitutes part of the essence that makes haiku what it is. The lack of appreciation of this important point may partly have caused the difficulty in understanding the so-called haiku spirit, which is “given” for most Japanese haijin.
I am not saying that every haiku poet should abide by old Japanese rules and conventions. What I am saying is that he or she should learn them first, making them their starting point and more crucially a guiding spirit in their long haiku journey, and proceed on to develop their skills and originality on the basis of them. Then, and only then, their haiku can acquire depth, relevance and universality, plus golden treasure, i.e. limitless possibility of creating new haiku.
Otherwise, they would remain superficial, un-haiku-like, irrelevant and dogmatic. If one tries to do the same by following rules and conventions of other countries than Japan one might as well call the resulting product something else than haiku, there being no point in calling it such. The highest one can hope to reach that way would only be the second best, and very rarely at that.
If and when one obtains the golden treasure mentioned above new rules and conventions would naturally follow the very best haiku poems as they gradually spread across wider haiku circle. What seem to have happened more often than not is the reverse, i.e. someone creates new rules and conventions for whatever reason and imposes them on others, regardless of the quality of haiku thus created. The New Year can be a good point to start something new. Why not start implementing the suggestion contained in this greeting?