WHR August 2014
WHR August 2014
Editorial - on this page
To answer the question of whether haiku would be capable of dealing with hard subjects of harsh realities of life such as war, disasters, death, atrocities, sexual violence etc. has been one of the most important areas of our movement ever since the World Haiku Club was founded in 1998.
At WHC we regard haiku strictly as a genre of art in the broad sense of the word, as distinct from other human activities such as politics, economics, social reform, war or religion. Haiku is there for its own sake. Haiku is an end for itself and not a means to an end. Put conversely, we do not allow haiku to be exploited as a tool for these other human activities, most crucially politics and religion. To avoid misunderstanding about another principle to which we at WHC feel dear, freedom of creation, let me hasten to add that we can of course write haiku ABOUT any subjects including the hard subjects mentioned above. Which is fundamentally different from playing politics or exercising religious activities by taking advantage of haiku. This distinction, though difficult it may look to make at first sight, is of crucial importance. I have also affirmed, as if it needs affirmation, that people outside WHC can do what they like. That is their freedom, though it is fair to say that it would be nice if our influence spread across the world by persuasion and example.
Whether my point has been understood, taken heed of, or even heard, I am not certain. Let us once again focus on the very important distinction between writing haiku about politics or religion and actually undertaking politics and religion using haiku as a tool. To some people, these two things may seem one and the same and therefore totally inseparable. Some others go even so far as to say that in order to achieve a political or religious end one should use all means available to one, be it a drone or a piece of haiku. Still others say that haiku would be nothing if it excluded itself from serving a political or religious cause if necessary because art should be everything, all-inclusive and comprehensive. W. B. Yeats was a politician as well as a poet. Minamoto Sanetomo was a renowned waka poet as well as a ruler of Japan. Has not Picasso influence the way in which we look at wars? What about the war artists sent to killing fields, or painting and writing in praise of their country’s war efforts? The list may well be long.
It is an emotive issue, no doubt. It is at the same time a fundamental issue, fundamental in terms of the nature and function of art (Does l’art pour l’art matter?). The first point has dominated the scene, so much so that it has overshadowed or even eliminated the second. This is partly due to our intrinsic weakness because we are an emotional animal and poetry comes directly to our hearts. However, it is also due to the disparaging fact that politics and religion are much stronger in governing our life than art in general and poetry in particular, and haiku in most particular. The latter is not a sufficient condition, nor a necessary condition and may not even be a condition at all for life. Without it we will not starve. Most of us go through life quite happily without a book of poems in our hand. Most of us are born and die without reading a single line of haiku.
Ask each and every haiku poet: What would be there for haiku to change the dynamics of politics, or the future of a religion? What can haiku do to stop the fighting in the Middle East or in Ukraine? What on earth is haiku expected to do to help reverse the trend of disenchantment of people with religion, or conversely to prevent religious fundamentalism from becoming worse? The former US President studied haiku at Yale but even he could not do anything about the uselessness of haiku in the face of irresistible desire to go to war in Iraq. The EU President who is adept at haiku has so far failed to make the most of, or to take advantage of, haiku in order to solve the discredited single currency mechanism, or all other political or economic problems in general of the area.
So, let us be quite clear: Haiku is not here with us to solve the world’s problems. It is here with us to make our life and the world we live in, however infinitesimally, that much richer and enjoyable. It is also here with us to provide a new perspective with which we look at our life, the world and ourselves differently. We are so much better off spiritually with haiku as part of our existence and culture. That is all, no less, no more.
It is for this reason why we should give haiku freedom it deserves, freedom to be pursued as human poetic creation. And that is where the question of subject matter comes into. Haiku ought to be able to deal with any subject under the sun and for that to happen should be given the maximum freedom of expression. Whether, as a result, we will have good haiku about hard subjects or not remains to be seen. If it proves negative, haiku in this subject area will eventually peter out as inadequate and possibly die. Let be.
It is against this background that we have given “war” as a suggested theme for this issue of World Haiku Review. There were some excellent submissions but many reflected the difficulty of the subject to be treated in haiku and overall, the result was patchy, to put it mildly. Mutilated bodies, rubble after the bombardment, tears of mothers and conflagration are all too remote from the usual haiku themes of flowers and birds. Is haiku poetry only of peace time? Is it for that reason less worthy?
Let us give this area of haiku time to develop.