WHR June 2015
Contents of June 2015
Editorial (on this page)
Haiku and Education
Fuga no Makoto – Poetic Sincerity, Honesty and Truth
Speech 1 for WHF2005 in Romania
It is in a sense as serious an act for one human being to educate another as for one human being, say, to judge another. Both affect the other person fundamentally and almost forever. In olden times, education seems to have had two aspects in the original terminology. One was, according to its Latin meaning, to bring up, rear, foster or train (educare), like bringing up a child or training an apprentice. And the other was to lead out, or, as in a modern English word, educe, to bring out, elicit or evoke (educere). Both are derivatives of Latin “ducere”, or to lead. These two aspects are very instructive and even handy when we think of the main theme of this year’s World Haiku Festival: namely “Haiku and Education”.
The first aspect of education indicates a much broader meaning of education than mere schooling. Haiku is more of a way of life than of simply acquiring a body of exotic knowledge or skills. It therefore fits this broader meaning of education very well.
At the same time, I happen to believe that haiku, or something like a primordial sensibility for haiku, is actually in every one of us, regardless of race, culture, language or religion. Put in another way, if we compare haiku to cooking, its ingredients are to be found in every one of us. We only have to cook it. And like food, every haiku tastes different, unless, that is, one gets it from MacDonald’s. You, as haiku poets from various countries, are living testimonies to this. The question, then, is how to extract haiku from within ourselves and this question relates to the second aspect of education as applied to haiku. All we have to do is to extract haiku which is already within ourselves right from the start. Simple, isn’t it? Or, is it?
At this point, there is one issue which needs to be addressed before we go any further. It is actually something that is self-evident but I will mention it anyway. And that is, that haiku is poetry full stop and not an instrument for education. Haiku should be pursued and enjoyed for what it is and for its own sake. It should not be used as a tool of education any more than it should be used for political, or some religious purposes. If haiku is basically treated as poetry, first and foremost, and is still left, as an after-effect or by-product, with some good influence on education or anything else, by all means let us make the most of it. However, to have it the other way round would be putting the cart before the horse.
That said, it is heartening to think that haiku has played a useful role in education in various ways. The evidence is abundant. It ranges from school curricula which make the teaching of haiku to children compulsory to cases whereby haiku is used for an educational programme at prison services. Haiku in education has been one of the most important policy areas of the World Haiku Club since its inception. In the first World Haiku Festival back in 2000 in London and Oxford, a special seminar was organised exclusively devoted to this theme. Our members are disseminating haiku among children across the world through school system or holding workshops, ginko or kukai all the time. Children are natural haiku poets even before they know anything about it.
There are many interesting things which can be discussed under the theme of ‘Haiku and Education’. However, today, I would like to try to examine with you what I believe to be one of the ultimate aims of education as applied to haiku. This particular aim of education is to provide each person with ways in which he or she can try to reach truths. Science provides ways in which to explore scientific truths through experiments. Philosophy, philosophical truths through contemplation. Arts, artistic truths through pictorial or musical language. What, then, does haiku provide? I believe that haiku provides ways in which we can explore poetic truths, or truths found and expressed in the haiku language. Here I am talking about what Basho was seeking both in his writing and teaching of haikai-no-renga and hokku, namely, fuga no makoto, or poetic truths.
I am sure you will agree with me when I say that haiku opens up for us a very different way of looking at things around us. You probably can never forget the first time when a haiku poem hit you and you were experiencing something totally new and different. Perhaps you remember that particular haiku by heart. As you walked along the haiku path and were consciously or unconsciously acquiring a different outlook, haiku must have changed you permanently even in the most subtle way. After that, the world would not be the same again. You would not see nazuna or a spider in the same way. You would not feel the same when you got wet with spring rain or hit by hails. You would not look up the sky in the same way as you would be more conscious of the Moon or the Milky Way. You would not pass narcissi by without trying to find if they were bent by the first snow.
Thus haiku can teach children or any other learners, a totally new way of looking at the world around us. If they are deeply moved by what they see, it is likely that they have hit some haiku gold mine. And if they can put such poetic experience in a few right words, they would have achieved fuga no makoto, or poetic truths. There are a number of paths leading to such poetic truths. Firstly, as I have already mentioned, there is a path for them to recognise and learn a different way of looking at things. Though things they see may be the same as those they are accustomed to but it is the new way in which to look at them that is different. The second path is for them to write down what they saw in a different way, namely a haiku way. This is different from any of the writing style they are accustomed to. Thirdly, they can be taught that the subject matter of haiku is also different from what they are used to with their indigenous poems.
The word makoto in fuga no makoto is a key word to understand one of the most important tenets of the Japanese spiritual values in arts, literature, ethics or philosophy. Ma means true but koto means both words and things, thus makoto means both true words and true things, i.e. truths in words and things. In addition, makoto when not broken up like that means an ethical or moralistic value of honesty, sincerity and truthfulness. So, when Basho uses the phrase fuga no makoto, it means not only poetic truths but also poetic honesty and sincerity both in words and subjects. There is an element of moralistic value in Basho’s fuga no makoto, while for many other haiku poets such moral dimension was neither important nor part of their concern.
Historically, there were three major values people sought to achieve in Japanese culture: shin (truth), zen (goodness) and bi (beauty). They represented philosophical, ethical and aesthetic goals respectively. Waka or tanka sought beauty first, followed by truth and some element of goodness. However, normally haiku looked into truth and beauty but seldom into goodness. Of course truth can be found in beauty and truth can be beautiful. And the famous adage: Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. No one doubts the beauty of Basho’s wisteria haiku or the Milky Way haiku. But how many people would see beauty in the cicada or the roaming dream haiku?
Obviously, we cannot dissect haiku in such clear-cut factors. Nor should we really do it, if we can appreciate good haiku without such analysis, which is normally the case. What is important to remember is that it is haiku’s own poetic values that provide us with ways in which we can reach fuga no makoto.
Fable of Dog's Legs and Tail
"If you call a tail a leg, how many legs has a dog? Five? No, four. Calling a tail a leg doesn't make it a leg!" - Abraham Lincoln as quoted by Gabi Greve
A telling question was asked paraphrasing this quotation: If you call a dog’s tail haiku does it become haiku? This is one of the most important issues of haiku (which could well be "the" most important, if its profound implications and background factors are to be taken into consideration) by using a parable of man's best friend.
Between Gabi and Paul, there are hundreds and hundreds of men and women who think or hope they are writing haiku (i.e. dog's legs) but are confused, dismayed, frustrated, exasperated, misled, or indifferent and oblivious in terms of Gabi's question.
What we have here is an example, in the shape of haiku, of a much wider question of transmission of one culture to another. The word "transmission" is interchangeable with or replaced by, depending on the circumstances, transfer, translation, export, dissemination, spread, migration, grafting, adaptation, adoption, copying, imitating, derivative, propagation, indoctrination, assimilation, invasion, Imperialism, imposition etc. What is transmitted and how, also vary. Aspects of a culture can be transmitted from one country to another (or the rest of the world, as in haiku), from one cultural zone to another, or from one community within these areas to another community. Coercion of wholesale adoption of a culture has been imposed by one nation upon another. One contemporary example of it is in progress under our very nose. Many nations are guilty of the crime, including my own country and Gabi's.
Is such cultural transmission possible, desirable, necessary or beneficial?
Gabi's question lies at the heart of our haiku pursuit. And yet it is seldom, if ever, discussed. Not in the sense Gabi is dealing with it. Why? Why is it not discussed? It is because it has become, or has been made into, a taboo. Hence, a fable is born a la Aesop. A story about a strange dog that seems to some to be having five legs and to others four legs and a tail, a leviathan of leg-pulling legend but at the same time a totally telling tale.
An Englishman, normally a very good cook, tried his hands on a dish he called sashimi for the first time in his life and served it for my birthday party. It was sashimi all right in every sense of the word. However, it was inedible.
The world of Kyudo (Japanese archery) in Britain has been split into two regimes ever since a Mr. Genuine (an Englishman) stood up and declared that we should not call it Kyudo if it excluded Rei (manners=spiritual side of it) and was reduced to a mere pastime or sport whereby only skills to shoot the target were enjoyed. For Mr. Genuine, Kyudo is nothing but Rei. For his opponents, Rei is nothing but tiresome irrelevance.
Back to haiku itself:
Gabi herself has given a newly-born kitten a glorious name: HAIKU. If she calls a cat HAIKU, does it become haiku? NO, IT DOES NOT! So I thought. Wait, ... wait a moment. I saw this lovely kitten myself soon after it was born and the sight was haiku! His mother, barely one year old, was haiku, too.
Our old friend, late Robert Gibson, coined a controversial phrase "The American Haiku Machine". If he was reading this fable with us, he might have shrugged his satirical shoulders with a wry smile and said, "Well, you know, American haiku poems are dog's tail, but it's a gigantic tail of the gargantuan scale and does wag the dog into the bargain!"
Whether dog's leg or tail, American haiku has been "transmitted" to all corners (and nooks and crannies) of the world, save Japan. Therefore, if American haiku is not haiku, nor is haiku in the rest of the world save Japan and we had better stop doing what we are doing at once, as it is a waste of time for everybody on a massive scale (mind you, haiku is, or even should be, a useless thing and a waste of time, for it to remain haiku, another irony). If that were the case, I would have to close the World Haiku Club immediately as it believes to the contrary, convinced that there is a common denominator which makes what I call "world haiku" (on this more later) possible.
This line of argument would make the blood of some haiku poets boil. As far as they are concerned, there is no such thing as American haiku or Ethiopian haiku. All there is haiku.. full stop. Haiku transcends and defeats all the differences in terms of race, language, nationality, culture or religion. It is like water running and springing everywhere in the world and water is water.
The problem is that these extreme views are easy to form but difficult to convince. They are also highly emotive, denying frank and meaningful discussion. What we need to do is to cool off and do some objective and practical analysis of the issue. We must know the anatomy of it and to know its anatomy we must do the dissection. Our fabled dog needs to be cut open! It's no longer a simple question of legs or tail but everything about the dog, ranging from its heart to the tip of its hair, and not least its owner.
* * *
Takahama Kyoshi was a shrewd player of this game. He was appreciative of good poems even if they were not in line with the cannons of his Hototogisu School. "A good piece of poem this is, indeed", he used to praise such poems, adding, "but it's not haiku." His verdict of what was and was not haiku was final and held sway over much of the Japanese haiku world and his influence reverberates even today. If we apply his principles and those of his followers to the haiku poems written in today's Japan, many of them will fail as haiku. They, therefore, will be termed as a dog's tail, or at least dog's diseased leg.
However, this is still about Japan. Haiku poems written outside Japan are of a different order altogether. Some may argue that it is the same thing. Yes and No. The free verse or whatever else deviation from the traditional haiku school in Japan have encountered the same sort of problems which non-Japanese haiku poets are experiencing now. Similarities can be found there. At the same time, the similarities end and fundamental differences will soon emerge. They will do so at least from the following two sources: (a) the Japanese poets of non-traditional haiku schools have the experience of studying and practicing the traditional haiku (classic as well as modern) and are well versed in it, even if they may no longer write haiku along that line (many write both); (b) the Japanese language and the whole culture behind it. The latter is what Gabi is talking about, citing the wisdom of the legendary President.
[to be continued]
From: Susumu Takiguchi
Re: Fable of Dog's Legs and Tail (The Second Night's Tale)
"If you call a tail a leg, how many legs has a dog? Five? No, four. Calling a tail a leg doesn't make it a leg!" - Abraham Lincoln as quoted by Gabi Greve
* * *
James W. Hackett said to me many times and categorically that there was absolutely no point for non-Japanese to imitate Japanese haiku and that it was impossible.
One of the leading British haiku poets, who is nameless, has said to me that mimicking Japanese haiku was like living in cloud-cuckoo-land and that now that we had developed our own haiku in its own right there was no longer any need to continue to learn from the Japanese. Worse still, the poet not only showed no interest in knowing Japan or her culture but also positive dislike of it.
I have learned from reports of other people and also from my own experience some strange behaviour on the part of non-Japanese haiku poets and/or those non-Japanese individuals who are supposed to be interested in Japan and her culture. It is assumed that they all want to visit Japan, the country they dream of. However, when they finally and actually pay a visit to Japan, many of them often appear disinterested in looking at, or studying, all those things which could help make them understand what they had thought they would never understand, i.e. inscrutable Japan.
Ion Codrescu says that haiku is like birds which fly across national boundaries, over oceans and continents. No one can stop them.
It has been observed that many American children believe that haiku was invented in America, or at least it is American poetry. The Hollywood Machine has shown that Enigma was an American invention. Who invented wine, Champagne, shochu, port, Madeira or Drambuie? Take Champagne for example, many countries produce a drink which is all Champagne but name. Is haiku in the same situation, or the opposite? Or, is the case of haiku a happy one in that what we write is haiku, haiku and haiku both in name and substance? Does it matter to call something like "lily: / out of the water... / out of itself" haiku or not, except that the author says so? Non-traditionalist haijin in Japan have begun to use the word "tanshi", meaning short verses, which is interchangeable with haiku, though they have not given up using the magic word "haiku". If something is as good as Nicholas Virgilio's poem just quoted, does it matter at all what it is called? Is it not us lesser poets who spend time worrying about such trifles? In a sense we have managed to reduce "What is haiku?" to one of the most tiresome and futile questions of modern times. Few other things put me off and send me off to sleep more compellingly than this question.
Thus, I am not so much interested in whether to call something haiku or not as what is actually written under that name. I am deeply concerned that so many of them are not up to scratch and that generally the standards and quality leave much to be desired. I am worried to death about this state of affairs, so much so that I suffer from sleepless nights and am driven to want to do what little I can do to help improve the situation.
The difficulty is that the name (haiku) and the substance (poems) are inexorably linked because the name is not just a name but has all sorts of baggage with it such as definitions, prerequisite, rules and conventions or characteristics. If the definitions of haiku included that it must be written in Japanese how simple the world would be! Until the attempt at transmitting haiku to other languages began, such had been the case.
Japan closed her doors to the outside world for over two centuries ("sakoku"), which made the country one of the most insular nations in the world. After the Americans all but blasted the doors open in 1853/54, Japan was forced to follow the open door policy but she tended to revert back to insularity from time to time and the people's mindset has long remained closed and insular (which is what I call "seishinteki-sakoku", or mentally chained and closed). Unfortunately, even today the Japanese are in the state of "seishinteki-sakoku" in many ways, and haiku poets are no exception. Most of the Japanese haiku poets are unaware of or have little interest in haiku written outside Japan. If they were asked whether or not these are haiku in the first place the answer would be most likely to be in the negative. However, there is nothing they can do about what people in the rest of the world choose to do outside their shores. They cannot erect copyright or patent (intellectual property) over haiku as a whole to prevent foreigners from writing them. So, yes, Paul is absolutely right when he says that the Japanese do not own haiku in the sense I have described. I am appalled and in despair when faced with the narrow-mindedness and isolationist attitude of the Japanese haijin when what they should really be doing is to be proud of their cultural heritage being loved and enjoyed by so many people in so many countries and in so many languages in the world. Instead of sneering at them, they should be glad, do their best to show their appreciation and if possible offer to do anything they can to help. This is matched by my dismay and concern about the arrogance and ignorance displayed by some non-Japanese haijin.
Gabi has thus, probably inadvertently, opened a can of worms or Pandora's Box, and thrown the ghost of a cat (headless and limbless) into the bargain!
[to be continued]
Your remark (above) points to another important characteristic or effect of haiku and I am glad that you have brought it to our attention. The paper I am writing for the main theme "Haiku and Education" of World Haiku Festival 2004 to be held this summer in Croatia begins with the same observation: "The true and ultimate aim of using haiku as a teaching tool must be to teach children or any other learners including adults, a different way of reaching truths. Before the stage to seeking and reaching truths, there are a number of processes for them to learn. The first is for them to recognise a different way of looking at things. Things they see maybe the same usual ones they are accustomed to but it is a new way in which to look at them.
"After seeing the exhibition of Hiroshige's ukiyo-e, even the English people start looking like the faces Hiroshige depicted. One cannot walk about the streets of Montmartre in Paris without "seeing" Maurice Utrillo's landscape paintings. Similarly, haiku makes us look at things differently. In this added new dimension of one's perceptions, in Paul's words, lies a lot more secrets (if they are secrets at all) of haiku than in any of its rules. As it is a way of looking at things rather than culture- or language-specific things themselves, the "dimension" has a much better chance of being transmitted across cultural or linguistic barriers. This, in turn, makes the outlook for world haiku more hopeful. It seems high time I explained the term "world haiku" and what WHC is trying to do about it. It is a complex thought and I am citing my interview with Simply Haiku as it deals with this matter at length and hopefully will help you understand my point.
With best wishes,
(Simply Haiku, August 2003, Issue No. 2)
Susumu Takiguchi - Interview By Robert Wilson
Q) When did you first start writing haiku?
A) Oh, that's quite an ancient history! My mother's uncle, Nao Kataoka, was a student of Kyoshi (1874-1959). Nao lived in Suginami, north-western Tokyo and held kukai frequently at his house with Kyoshi. As was customary in the Japan of those days for a young girl of a good family to become a lady of accomplishments through study, my mother stayed at her uncle's home to learn. As Nao studied haiku under Kyoshi, he handed down the master’s teachings to my mother. My father wrote haiku also, and together they interested me in the genre when I was a little boy in the most traditional and orthodox sense. That is how it all started, now over half a century ago.
When I was in my fifth and sixth years of primary school, I became engrossed in reading Meiji Era novels, including those by Koyo, Soseki and Ogai. Other literary genres such as tanka and haiku captivated my interest as well. Being exposed to an enormous amount of excellent haiku at this tender age probably formed the basis of my understanding and writing of haiku. This included my appreciation of the life style or view of life of these novelists. For instance, in my view, Soseki, a university professor and a top novelist by profession, was haiku itself: playing the fool in a Shakespearian manner; in spite of his keen intellect and top scholarship, he showed an excellent sense of humour; yet he was most serious and even melancholy in his spiritual search. He maintained a somewhat detached and even superior air, or transcendental pose of an artist or poet, while yet being very human with a lot of foibles. He was known to be irritable and short-tempered, while at the same time, he sought peace of mind through Zen and other avenues.
Q) Who has had the greatest influence on you in your writing and why?
A) You might expect me to say Basho, and that is, in a sense, true. After all, as an academic I conducted my research into Basho. Or, you might expect me to say Shiki, since I have done an extensive study of him, and through WHC, organised events for a two-year commemorative, which celebrates the centenary of his death. However, if I really think about
it, it has to be Kyoshi who has had the greatest influence on my writing. When I wrote an introductory book on Kyoshi in English (the first of its kind and to date, the only book on him outside Japan), I wrote to the effect that we should now be saying "the Five Greatest Haiku Masters", instead of four: Basho, Buson, Issa, Shiki and Kyoshi. Six years on, I couldn't be stronger in this conviction.
You see, in the ilk of traditional haiku, Kyoshi's followers count millions. However, they are just that -- disciples. Not yet has a single figure emerged who surpasses Kyoshi. Among factions in the opposite camp to Kyoshi, namely various schools of vers libre haiku, and taking all factors into consideration, no one comes anywhere near the stature of Kyoshi. Of course, we may need another hundred years or two before history could prove Kyoshi to be one of the five greats; but in our time, haiku has been advancing, in terms of the number of poets and of various developments, many times over, compared with pre-Meiji (1868-1912). In the scheme of things, our ten years may perhaps be tantamount to a hundred years in Basho's time. Shiki was great. Kyoshi, however, is at least his equal. That Kyoshi should be one of the five greats, therefore, seems to me to be a foregone conclusion.
Quite apart from my family connection with Kyoshi, his haiku poems and teachings became part of my fabric in my early days. This was not only due to reading his works and writings, or of episodes about him, but also through such things as the famous saijiki (kigo dictionary) he compiled -- and through poets of my acquaintance who had a thorough knowledge and understanding of Kyoshi. In contrast to his rivals or detractors who were, in a way, too much infatuated with their own schools of thought (i.e. in love with themselves), the fact that he began as a novelist gave Kyoshi his detached and objective views on haiku. You see haiku is all about such mild detachment or gentle objectivity, which makes it distinct from other forms of literature, especially from tanka poetry.
Oppositions to Kyoshi's standpoint concerning haiku gave him a chance to consolidate the traditional school into a comprehensive corpus of haiku in both theory and practice. This was something new, unprecedented. Compared with this vast citadel of better-defined and coherent school of thought, past masters including Basho, Buson or Issa were in fact much freer. What this amounts to, one might say, is that traditional haiku had been in the process of being developed until Kyoshi arrived at the scene, consolidating all previous efforts, which spanned over three hundred years. Kyoshi's followers are enormous in number, belonging to numerous haiku clubs and societies, with Hototogisu and Tamamo at the apex. They call themselves "classical haiku" groups, and they are arguably more traditional, conservative and
prescriptive than perhaps Basho himself.
We, at the World Haiku Club, have created a small and special forum with limited membership to form an equivalent group outside Japan to the "classical haiku" school which Kyoshi founded. It is called "WHChaikuneoclassical", and its members are endeavouring to write those haiku poems and developing those rules/definitions/conventions which could be the "equivalent" to the Japanese cousin. It is hoped that this group will one day become a centre of excellence, where traditional haiku of the truest sense possible can be learnt, written and enjoyed outside Japan.
Q) You are the founder of the World Haiku Club and it's literary Journal, the World Haiku Review. What role are they playing in the internationalization of haiku?
A) First, please let me rephrase your question. Yes, I am the founder of the World Haiku Club itself. However, there is another person who created and developed the World Haiku Review, the Club's comprehensive, world-wide magazine, together with me. And that is Debra Woolard Bender (Debi Bender) from Orlando, Florida, USA, who is its Editor-in-Chief.
Now, would you like non-controversial diplomatic niceties for an answer to your question, or a sincere, heartfelt and passionate heart-to-heart -- or, putting it another way, "I must be cruel, only to be kind"?
R. H. Blyth first used the phrase "world haiku", which probably is a little known fact. Some six years ago, when I was convinced that the time was ripe for the phrase to have a world-wide circulation, I began preparations for the World Haiku Festival, which now has become synonymous with, and "copyright" name of, the World Haiku Club (WHC), and under which, technically, all WHC activities are held across the world. The largest of these include World Haiku Festival 2000 London & Oxford, Masaoka Shiki Centenary Celebrations in 2001 and 2002, World Haiku Festival 2002 Yuwa, Akita & Oku-no-Hosomichi, and now the World Haiku Festival in Holland, to be held 12-14 September 2003 in Leeuwarden, Provincie Friesland.
I don't suppose you would wish me to say the kind of thing you have already heard thousands of others say. Likewise, you may not like to hear sanitised and neutralised remarks either. Nowadays, few question the validity of the phrase, "world haiku," but when I first began to circulate it, I was met with an extreme form of derision, fierce opposition and even "character assassination". These same people who committed such unacceptable conduct for a long time now clamour to be recognised as champions of "world haiku", or even worse, as the originator who coined the phrase in the first place. Although it is perhaps unnoticed by the unsuspecting, a corner of our haiku community is a rotten place where haiku undesirables lurk and do mischief in the dirtiest and most un-haiku-like manner. Much worse, some disguise themselves under the cloak of respectability when they come out of such a shady place. Through them have appeared pirated editions, imitations and copycats. All sad, destructive and unnecessary, but true.
The World Haiku Club, the World Haiku Review and all the activity done under the umbrella of these two comprehensive names in the real/ physical world and the virtual/Internet world is, in a nutshell, a haiku reform movement. In a sense, WHC can be said, not even to be an organisation as such. This is an important point to remember when understanding our aims. It is more like a constantly evolving and developing organic entity that feeds on actual activities rather than an office, red tape, bureaucracy, paper work or committee politics.
One activity creates another, which leads to a third and so on. The whole dynamic and complex combination of activities form a world-wide creative network of haiku poets, like many stones which are thrown into an ocean of inspiration, imagination and creativity. Ripples expand, meet, interact, and merge, becoming waves of haiku events and meetings in different parts of the world. These creative ripples and inspirational waves are WHC's true essence, and they consist of individual haiku poets with their own originality, sensibility and aspirations, not of committee rooms nor organisational rivalry.
Now for the real nitty-gritty. Like humans, haiku also needs regular health checks, so that it does not become too rigid, slack, tired, sick or develop cancers. Oftentimes, haiku poets tend to be liable to be cliquish, stifling, over-precious, zealous and narrow or closed-minded anyway. Unless we are very careful, haiku theories, rules and conventions always risk becoming sterile, repetitive, restrictive and dogmatic. Throw negative haiku politics into this pot, and you get a revolting, rotten haiku stew. Out of the pot come all manner of self-appointed haiku teachers, preachers and even delinquents or "terrorists" who spread their masters' rot before the dish is even fully cooked.
The results are food poisoning of misguided conventions, ill-advised rules or dogmas, or at least half-baked mediocrities or insipid platitude. Not a few rise to the status of haiku tribal chiefs, with blind or brain-washed followers who worship them. These spread questionable haiku conventions and works as gospel, lowering the general standards and quality by terrorising or duping others.
This is a result of forgetting at least two cardinal rules of practicing haiku: respect for standards and quality, and modesty or humility in one's approach to things. For certain, everybody is not like that, but in order to save haiku from such maladies and restore its vigour, growth, strength, value and health, we need to challenge essentially all established or establishing conventions to see if they are really as fine as their guardians would have us believe. Ironically, this health-check is especially critical when a particular convention is believed by many or most to be true and thus, never questioned.
Thus, we need a change of air, fresh fruit, clean water, good food and medicine. We need new talent, fresh beginners and outside influences. If, after such a critical review, a particular convention proves correct, then, it would not only be issued a clean bill of health but also vindicated its value, thus proving its genuine chance of becoming a lasting haiku canon (what Basho called "fueki"). If not, we just keep on improving, changing or discarding it. That is all. Simple. Really, no big deal. Still, once established as conventions, those with vested interests will cling to them and the blind just follow them. Haiku skirmishes and wars are often fought over them as people confuse their self-interests with what really is good for haiku.
No convention can be perfect forever, nor free from critical scrutiny. Such is the kind of reassessment and reappraisal which WHC is proposing to the world and practicing within itself. Thus, we have questioned and will continue to question various conventions such as "The Haiku Moment", definitions of senryu, excessive emphasis on Zen, lack of sense of humour in haiku, blanket dismissal of kigo and many other widely accepted rules and conventions.
However, our efforts are not to attack or disown these conventions nor their proponents, but rather to unlock the doors of prison cells, liberating haiku into free air, space and inspiration toward other possibilities. We are, in fact, on their side. Here lies the secret of the "world haiku" we discussed above. The whole point of WHC lies in this phrase since its seat of reference is "the world", its theatre is "the world", its audience is "the world", its beneficiaries are "the world". It serves "the world", rather than an individual or a group of individuals; or a province or nation; or a cultural, linguistic and ethnic group; or a particular school of thought. Other groups are serving the latter and themselves, or sometimes a single person. In this way, WHC tries to avoid becoming self-serving, or favouring particular individuals, organisations or even nations to the exclusion of others.
WHC tries to transcend national, cultural and linguistic barriers with which normal organisations are afflicted. In this way, WHC is fundamentally different from any other organisations, or at least trying to be. It would, therefore, be barking up the wrong tree if someone came to WHC's neck of the woods and complained that things were different here. If we are not different, there is in fact little point of having WHC in the first place. There are too many similar haiku societies and organisations, like identical beach huts or EU-regulated apples.
We are doing our own things within our WHC woods for ourselves and also for anyone else in the world who wishes to benefit from what we are doing. We leave other woods alone, although we basically maintain good relations with other individuals and organisations. So, we are different, we have made it our job to be different, and our wishes are to make a difference in the world haiku community even in a small way.
In the end, the world which WHC serves is haiku in its ultimate sense: WHC serves haiku, itself. There, for WHC, the haiku world and world haiku would become one. This would not be possible if we were a regional or even a national organisation, or an organisation in the normal sense of the term (see above). Most importantly, the haiku WHC serves is not some kind of a monster such as globalised haiku or homogenised international haiku or standardised supermarket haiku or artificial haiku manufactured by the world haiku machine. Firstly, there can be no such thing, nor should there be. Secondly, no averaging or standardisation should be imposed on anyone or any school of thought.
On the contrary, the haiku WHC serves is the most original and individualistic type of work possible: the product of individual thought, sensibility and imagination, coming from personal experience, emanating from native and local soil and cultural and linguistic background. Ironically and somewhat contrary to the possible impression its name may give to a hasty observer, WHC endorses and encourages diversity, originality and differences. WHC is a meeting place for those diverse poets from different parts of the world to interact, exchange, converse, learn from each other, help each other and become friends -- binding people's hearts and minds through haiku. This is summed up in the four mission statements of the World Haiku Review:
and new talent
WHC wishes to include all nations, cultures and languages, but we can only progress one step at a time. We encompass many nations and cultures, but language-wise, there is much more to be done as this is a technically difficult area. Our bi-lingual fora include Spanish/English, Italian/English, French/English, Russian/English and, of course, Japanese/English. In this connection, we are especially mindful of the importance of bridging the lamentable and serious gap between Japan and the rest of the world.
I, myself, am a Japanese national, but have lived half of my life in Japan and the other half in the West. I know good things and not so good things about both. Each country means a lot to me and are equally important. In order to be of some use at all to both, I have long decided to try to be two additional things, while keeping my original cultural identity: firstly, what may be termed as a "world person", and secondly, a "very individual person". Both are extremely difficult to achieve, but neither is impossible. I call upon my fellow haiku poets to join in this exercise which I can assure you is worth pursuing.
These are some of the most important aspects of the role we wish to play at WHC in the internationalisation of haiku. Whether or not it is working is for other people and history to decide.
Q) What makes a good haiku?
A) This is the hardest question to answer. Though I have created a broad church at WHC and encourage all schools of thought in haiku, including the most radical ones, I myself, was trained in Japan in strictly traditional haiku. So strong is that influence on my whole being, that
whatever views I express on haiku, I have the traditional haiku firmly as the basis of my assertion, comments or appreciation. In that sense, I am bound to mention "hai-i" (haiku idea), "hai-mi" (haiku flavour) or "haiku-no-kokoro" (the soul and heart of haiku), all of which is normally called outside Japan "haiku spirit", as by far the most important prerequisite of a good haiku. It may sound too harsh but if a poem hasn't got this, then it may not be a haiku -- or certainly not a good one.
"Haiku-no-kokoro" defies definition. This is the main reason why non-Japanese, especially Western, poets find it so difficult to understand it, let alone exercise it (there seems to be a faint commonality between the Japanese sensibility in this regard and that in Asian countries). Relating to a special frame of mind or "feeling" which makes one take a slightly different view of things (call it "haiku view"), it is a somewhat detached, slightly "tangential" or mildly "jaundiced", "twisted" or "sideway" view. It is looking at things through glasses of a sense of humour, modesty and detachment. One cannot explain it in English, either because there are no English words or expressions which have the same meaning, or one doesn't have enough vocabulary for it. It is more likely to be the case of the former (in essence, "detached", "tangential", "jaundiced", "twisted" and "sideway" are all wrong, or insufficient words).
This has been the greatest hindrance to non-Japanese, especially Western poets, in trying to write good haiku, or any manner of haiku at all. It is why so many haiku poems which get showering applauds outside Japan, sadly, just haven't got it, in my eyes. It is also the reason why some of the haiku poems which I praise go unnoticed or unappreciated. It is a huge topic, as it represents a big chunk of Japanese literature, arts and life, or perhaps, more to the point, woeful lack of it outside Japan. This topic would need a book, if not more, to be discussed fully.
Having said that, there is yet a hope, a definite hope. First and foremost, haiku poems written by children often possess this "haiku-no-kokoro". For them, it is a question of not losing it as they grow up. Secondly, beginners and the uninitiated, again, often demonstrate that they have got it. Thirdly, and somewhat understandably those non-Japanese who are born, bred, or live for a long time in Japan, or study Japan professionally as academics or delve into Japanese culture deeply and extensively (not as a superficial or frivolous exoticism) have a good chance of acquiring "haiku-no-kokoro". Finally, some lucky ones just happen to possess it somehow. These people are natural. The only thing they have to be on their guard is to lose it by reading too much do's and don'ts on haiku.
If "haiku-no-kokoro" cannot be transmitted from Japan to other cultures in the world, then we might as well leave haiku to children, beginners and the very few "naturals" to enjoy, while we, ourselves, forget about it. Otherwise, we might simply and humbly accept that the "haiku-no-kokoro" is unavailable to us and instead, set about creating a new form of poetry (whether called haiku or not) which is modelled on haiku -- but not haiku itself -- and see if this form is viable and has any literary merit. This seems to me to be what is happening in many parts of the world. In itself this is a worthy thing, and no mean feat.
And if we are neither children nor beginners, and still wish to explore "haiku-no-kokoro", then, the only effective way is to try to take the long and arduous journey of learning Japanese culture in the right way. There really is no other way. I believe this is not only possible, but desirable (Otherwise, I wouldn't have created WHC!). Desirable, because one never wastes anything by learning other cultures -- Japanese culture included. Only, if one's interest in Japanese culture is shallow and superficial, then one's haiku is likely to be so as well. If it is deep, one's haiku can be deep as well.
All this may sound obvious, but few put it into practice, and all the while it is affecting their haiku -- sometimes in an overt way and other times only in a subtle way. Someone who has actually eaten persimmons at Nara, or seen them in Kyoto or Tohoku, as some WHC members have done, his/her haiku feelings would be different next time he/she reads Shiki's persimmon haiku. Someone who has climbed those one thousand plus rock steps at Yama-dera (Ryushaku-ji) will know what Basho was talking about in his cicada poem.
One last thing to be mentioned on this topic is that there actually are good haiku-like poems around, and that if they acquire just one more vital quality, i.e. "haiku-no-kokoro", they will become really good haiku.
There are many other factors which can make good haiku. However, rather than writing a few hundred words about each, it might be more useful if I were to explain some of the points I keep in mind when judging haiku in a competition or kukai. I am currently in the early stages of compiling a new world haiku anthology, which is a collection of (only and strictly) those haiku which I think are either truly good, or which I personally like very much, or both. The following include some of the criteria I am using for this (they are similar to the guidelines in my book, KYOSHI -- A HAIKU MASTER):
(1) Has something new (new subjects; a new way of looking at old subjects; new inspiration, words or phrases, expressions etc.)
(2) Has something original (similar to "newness", but is more to do with the author's "own thing". This is where the real talent lies. Try to avoid imitating others)
(3) Has something of a surprise (again similar to "newness", but has the power to wake people up to a new way of looking at things. Who would wish to read predictable haiku or clichés?)
(4) A product of true, profound and strong feelings, either real (preferable) or in imagination (They will show. One wouldn't have these feelings 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Do not fake; do not be a copycat)
(5) Has something to say (Not thought or moral opinion, as haiku is not philosophy. Rather, a haiku should have something interesting to say in the "haiku language". Otherwise, it would become "So what?" haiku, or a statement of the most obvious)
(6) Is intelligible without a struggle on the reader's part (It is often said by masters in Japan, "few haiku are good that need to be read twice")
(7) Incorporates good words in good order(Coleridge's"the best words in the best order" should be aimed at, but "good words in good order" would do. Even an excellent phrase, alone, would help)
(8) Is not stripped of essential words and natural parts of speech simply for the sake of paring down for brevity (More often than not in doing so, the haiku loses depth, layers, clear meaning or intended effect. The minimalist's scissors do more harm than good)
(9) Has good rhythm (not necessarily that which is created by Western poetic device such as rhyme. Read the haiku aloud and adjust the words and phrasing to get the right rhythm. Haiku should create its own rhythm as opposed to a sonnet, for instance)
(10) Is composed to give a sense, or feel, of brevity (rather than imposing minimalist doctrines), which is the most important thing in terms of the length of haiku, rather than resorting to such measures as syllable counting.
(11) Incorporates elements from various other branches of art, such as musicality, pictorial feel, spatial relationship (per sculpture) or performance (dance, balance, movement); engages all our senses: smell, colour, sight, tactile sensations, taste, sound, 3D, light/darkness, contrast, depth; touches our emotions, such as disgust, joy or sadness etc.
(12) Any particular haiku (or, in process of writing, that which is to be made into a haiku) should be given the "right to decide its own future". What this means is that each haiku (to be) is different, unique and special in terms of the subject matter, time, situation, the author's mood etc. We should, therefore, treat each haiku differently each time, rather than imposing predetermined length (syllable count or whatever), or focusing on so-called rules about other considerations such as line order, punctuation, "layers", metaphor, anthropomorphosis, present or past tense, gerunds etc. Each haiku (if other conditions are right) will be able to determine its own rhythm, length, balance, choice of words and all other fundamental requirements, and to form itself into a haiku. Give it a lot of freedom -- let it become haiku by
itself (If it doesn't, let it be thrown into the dust bin). That is why it is sometimes said that good haiku are not written, but born.
(13) Haiku kept as haiku. Haiku is different from tanka or senryu, or anything else. Tanka is not haiku plus two more lines. Haiku is not tanka minus two lines. Senryu is not quite how it is defined in the West. In fact, the combined definitions of haiku and senryu in the West approximate haiku itself.
The two definitions purporting to distinguish the two genres, haiku and senryu, seem, on balance, to have done more harm than good to both of them. In other words, the West could be better off if it threw senryu away out of existence, as some assert, notably Jane Reichhold. Haiku should retain its essential characteristics, such as a sense of humour, some feeling of detachment, worldliness, humble objects, mundane events etc. Haiku has been made too serious in the West for its own good, and this seriousness alone seems to have been made the dominant feature of haiku and haiku poets, with consequences which are not always in the best interest of haiku or poets who write them.
Such observations are additional to all other things which are widely said about good haiku, but they are especially important in my case.
In this interview, I have been intentionally critical and provocative, as I believe world haiku has reached the stage where it would benefit hugely from a jolly good shaking-up for the good of haiku -- and for the good of those who are genuine in their love for the art and in their pursuit of better haiku. World haiku is in the state of flux and confusion; thus it stands in desperate need of good sorting-out and reform. I believe in the direction that WHC has chosen to take, and would welcome with open arms any like-minded poet who would share the same purpose and values.
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