Haiku Archeology

Haiku Archeology

 Posted by Susan Shand on January 4, 2013 at 7:50 PM Comments comments (12)

Let’s just do a little digging…

 

For the modern middle-class Japanese man of working age in the huge conurbation of Tokyo, Karaoke is infinitely more interesting than haiku at the end of a long day in the office. For most young people, fashion, music, computer games, and films, are the choices for their free time, when they are not studying hard for their future office jobs. If women have the time to study anything of the traditional Japanese Arts it would likely be Ikebana (flower arranging) or the tea ceremony. That is, when they are not spending their creative time designing elaborate school lunch boxes for their children.

 

Modern Tokyo is far more likely to approve of the hade (loud and showy) and ike(chic, bourgeoise and sensual) than it is of karumi (unadorned simplicity) and mono no aware (the pity of things).  In Japan, what counts as ‘beauty’ is dictated by ‘taste’ and taste is dictated by the consensus of the group with influence. Japanese society is no less socially stratified than British and American societies are. ‘Taste’ is influenced by power and since WWII, by the power of USA and its culture.

 

In Japan, haiku is old-fashioned and a bit of a joke. One commentator has referred to the traditional Japanese arts as “fossilized”*. Japanese short-form poetry in Japan could be compared to the cultural equivalent of Folk Music and Morris Dancing.

 

So when the west discovered haiku what they found was, if not quite dead, at least on its last legs. The injection of creative energy, freed from the cultural ennui of rule-bound familiarity, which the west has injected into haiku has given it the kiss of life. In response to the poets of the west’s somewhat anarchic approach to writing haiku without learning the rules first and with the admired “individuality” of non-conformity; some Japanese have rediscovered their own tradition, now glossed by the fashionable and individualistic west. So Gendai was born.

 

 

草闌けて犀の言葉で青年くる                                                    八木 三日女

 

kusa takete sai no kotoba de seinen kuru                              Yagi Mikajo

 

grass in its prime

with the language of a rhinoceros

a youth arrives

 

**

I imagine that the semi-fossilized traditionalists are laughing their tabi off, or spinning in their graves. Haiku is either a fossilized art form for which there are rigid rules dictated by Japan which everyone must follow; or it is a transforming art form in which the west has already had a large influence in its modern transformation. That transformation has come about simply because we westerners take what we like, steal it, and make it our own – creatively, individually. We use the building blocks to build things the way we want them to look, not in a perfectionist effort to simply reproduce what has gone before and what everyone else is doing.

 

So we are at a crossroads. The choice is between fossils and transformation. The choice is yours.

 

Susan

(stardate 20130104)

 

* Donald Richie (2007)  “A Tractate on Japanese Aesthetics” (P22) Stone Bridge Press, Berkeley, CA.

** http://gendaihaiku.com/mikajo/Shikishi-7.html

 

 

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12 thoughts on “Haiku Archeology

  1. Reply
    Violette Rose-Jones 06:27 AM on January 05, 2013
    Hi Susan,
    I totally agree. I have had arguments with strict traditionalists that say that haiku must stay what it was. That is the path to destruction for haiku. What does not change dies. Long live Gendai!

  2. Reply
    Joanne B Donald 07:10 AM on January 05, 2013
    Susan, enjoyed your post today as usual! Your ideas are well thought out & challenge most of the “Masters”, whose diatribes I have been subjected to where the “rules” are written in stone (fossilized) & any transformation/evolution is regarded as “disrespect for the art”, however your idea that the building blocks of the art form are there to interpret & evolve, not stagnate is, to my mind what every “Master” would hope his student would achieve. Respect for the past brought forward with creativity to create something beautiful for the present & future, so transformation gets my vote! & I look forward to your next post

  3. Reply
    Johannes S. H. Bjerg 09:14 AM on January 05, 2013
    Good post, Susan (this one too).

    Of course we use “building blocks” and so forth. We are not – which may surprise many Western writers of haiku – Japanese nor can we become Japanese just by romancing certain past periods of Japanese history.

    The transformation needed is to let our writing be rooted in our own cultural, historic and living reality.

  4. Susan Shand 12:50 PM on January 05, 2013
    phil madden says…
    isn’t all art always at a crossroads of its own making?

    What an interesting comment Phil! I’m not sure that it “always” is, why would that be?

  5. Susan Shand 01:00 PM on January 05, 2013
    Or *her* student Joanne The woman I quote in this piece was an accredited Haiku Master and a National Treasure of Japan. Thank you, if we stood still we would all still be rhyming our haiku or writing to a 5/7/5 syllable count. … or indeed writing in Iambic pentameter and Shakespearian sonnets.

  6. Reply
    Susan Shand 01:05 PM on January 05, 2013
    Johannes S. H. Bjerg says…
    Good post, Susan (this one too).

    Of course we use “building blocks” and so forth. We are not – which may surprise many Western writers of haiku – Japanese nor can we become Japanese just by romancing certain past periods of Japanese history.

    The transformation needed is to let our writing be rooted in our own cultural, historic and living reality.

    Thank you Johannes, I think you are right about staying rooted in our own living reality. I’m sure I don’t need to sit around in a kimono eating moon cakes in order to write haiku. It either works in my own culture or it doesn’t. Keep it real!

  7. geaneditor 06:14 PM on January 05, 2013
    No doubt stopping for the odd cig or two Mike
    Mikeymike says…
    the bitter wind
    still, I sit on the fence
    at the crossroads

  8. geaneditor 06:26 PM on January 05, 2013
    Hi Phil
    I like that. Kind of reminds me of Levi Strauss and my cultural history days.
    phil madden says…
    isn’t all art always at a crossroads of its own making?

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