January 2014 issue
World Haiku Review
Winter 2013 - 2014
January 2014 issue
In this issue :
Editorial - on this page
WHR January 2014
There is an expression used among Japanese haiku poets: “Haiku wo hineru”. “Hineru” means to give something a twist, or spin. So the whole sentence means to give haiku a twist. From this it has come to mean to ponder upon (=compose) haiku. However, compared with simply and straightforwardly saying that one writes haiku, it is a little bit more humorous and somewhat self-conscious way of saying the same thing. To give you an example: “Are you a good haiku writer?”, “No, all I’m doing is twist it.” The expression is much less commonly used nowadays but is still there in haijin’s lexicon.
Why has this expression ceased to be used as much as it used to be in the past? Is it still relevant? Is there anything it teaches us in the muddled state of world haiku? Can we not draw any lessons from it to improve our haiku writing?
If we go to the deep end first, the most fundamental point of this expression is the fact that haiku (or its predecessor hokku) has been regarded as different from other forms of Japanese literature, most notably from waka, or in modern parlance tanka. In waka, for example, one readily expressed emotions fully and unashamedly or depicted the beauty or melancholy of nature in a straightforward fashion. In haiku, one would rather have a bit of distance from these raw or “primary” feelings and explore a detached and often humorous view of things. This gap allows for the “twist” we looked at above. If waka and haiku are the same, we would not have needed to invent haiku at all. Further, it is not just the relative length of the two forms but all those sensibility, observation, reaction, expression and host of other factors that make one form waka and the other haiku. The distinction, therefore, is crucial.
Imagine that one went to a place of beauty and there one saw cherry blossoms and felt they were beautiful. This same scene can be narrated both in waka and haiku. In the former, one could add something like: despite the gorgeous blossoms one’s heart is heavy with lost love, which would make the whole poem a good waka provided it was expressed in graceful and formal language. In the latter, namely haiku, however, the straightforward expression of the scene would only serve to make it a boring “So what?” haiku, which as haiku would have little literary merit, originality or depth. Hence, the necessity of the “twist”.
Here, we can learn an important lesson: the way haiku poets look at things is different from that waka/tanka poets do. The difference is so deep, fundamental but subtle that normally haiku poets only write haiku and tanka poets only write tanka in Japan. They do not normally mix, or talk to each other about the other’s genre. However, some main stream poets or liberal-minded ones write both forms, like Shuji Terayama or Seamus Heaney having written haiku as well as tanka or English poems. They do not bother with the separation between haiku and tanka poets. Outside Japan, most haiku poets also write tanka and enjoy both, rather like enjoying J. S. Bach and jazz, or Sushi and spaghetti. The more, the merrier! However, they are actually running the risk of mixing up the two different forms. In the worst case, they mess them up so badly that they end up in creating neither good haiku nor good tanka.