WHR August 2012‎ > ‎

Editor's Choice Haiku

August 2012

The Editor’s Choice


                drowning the cicada's song ...
                the swift currents of

                the Kiyotaki River

慈光 Barrow


The Editor’s Choice in this issue may not be totally fair on most of the haiku poets outside Japan. Lawrence lives in Japan, is an ordained Zen monk and practices traditional Japanese arts. Thus he would not, for instance, fall into the usual trap of mixing up Zen and haiku, or of putting haiku on the sky-high and mysterious pedestal. He knows Japan too profoundly and is too much immersed in her culture to be yet another person for whom Japan is no more than a distant and superficial curiosity.


Perhaps, the most important of all his advantages is that he is living a life in Japan, breathing her culture directly, experiencing 24-7 all other cultural, religious, literary and artistic substance of that country apart from haiku. Thus, for Lawrence haiku is only a part of the vast ocean of what it was, has been and will be for a person living in Japan. And, this is in addition to his being an Englishman.


Three most obvious things in this haiku are indicative of what makes haiku practiced outside Japan different from the kind of haiku which is written by people like Lawrence – “drowning” in line 1, “swift” in line 2 and “Kiyotaki” in line 3. They are normally not there in haiku outside Japan mainly because of the ‘minimalist’ rule. Thus, the sort of haiku it would appear as, or be bashed into (called “tweak”) would be:


                cicada’s song…
                the currents of
                a swift river

Quite possibly, the word “song” or “swift” would also be chopped as superfluous as the minimalist’s pair of scissors would get into a feverish and frantic pitch:


                the currents of
                a river

The submissions of haiku for this issue included works which I call “hyper-minimalist” haiku. If applied to the haiku under review, it would look like:




The haiku political correctness would dictate “show, not tell” to such an extent on the part of both haiku critics and haiku-writers, that many haiku would end up “telling nothing”, i.e. there is no content in the haiku worth reading. We are also told to “leave the interpretation to the imagination of the reader”. The reader’s right is revered, pursued and protected so rigorously that the author’s right is virtually neglected: the author’s right to create, express him/herself and to use whatever words, style or poem’s length he/she pleases. This is in fact not just the author’s right but also duty.


In Japan, the noise cicadas make is raucous while in England it is literally unheard of and in European Continent it is mild. To muffle or drown cicada’s sound in Japan you will need a much louder sound like that of a low-flying helicopter or an explosion of one sort or another. That is the experience one needs in order to appreciate the haiku in question.


Kiyotaki is a famous resort in north-west of Kyoto at the foot of Mount Atago and along the river of the same name. The gorge is especially beautiful in autumn with golden and red colours. Using a place name in haiku can be tricky. For the Japanese Kiyotaki means a lot but for others it may mean little or nothing. However, one can still say that reading the haiku, anybody can feel that there is this fast-flowing river and that the sound the currents make is so loud that the cicada’s song one has been hearing can no longer be heard.


What is in this haiku and lacking in others is a story to tell, a drama to enjoy, music to listen to, a picture to appreciate, the feeling as if ourselves are being there too, in addition to the underlying factors such as Basho-like observation and topic, Uta-makura (beautiful places traditionally renowned in poems) visited by thousands of people. This was made possible because Lawrence used words which are necessary and important, free from the minimalists’ misconceptions. Nothing is easier than trimming haiku, especially those of others. So, extra-short haiku poems are not in themselves good or praiseworthy. What is difficult is to create a minimalist haiku which also has content and merit tantamount to the haiku such as Lawrence has written. It is not impossible. We have seen some good examples of it in World Haiku Review. However, they are one in thousands. It is therefore more like winning lottery money. What we should endeavour to do routinely is, to use the same metaphor, to earn high income by seeking to do a good and quality job.

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