Expansion, contraction pt 6/6 and Get localglobal

These two posts appeared to be to inseparable so this time you are served a double helping of utterly subjective views  based on the blogger’s uneducated glances into the world of haiku.

Expansion, contraction – action/reaction pt 6/6

Again, let me point out: there is no right or wrong way in haiku. It all depends on what you use haiku for, what you want from it. On personal preferences and choice of aesthetics – though the spirit of haiku (as imprecise yet recognizable it may be) must be there.

You (I) can easily turn away from haiku that doesn’t does nothing for you (me). You (I) don’t have to go into a rage every time you’re (I’m) confronted with haiku you (I) don’t like. And I do. Most of us do. At the end of the day you can’t argue against personal preferences. You are left with letting other people have theirs without considering them ignorants, bastards, elitist or whatever label you can think off. The world of haiku isn’t a totalitarian state and the stream of haiku can’t be controlled.

The diverse world of haiku may be a mess but it’s a beautiful mess brimming with life.

So why this obsession with haiku you don’t like? Why this obsession that haiku should be “one” or uniform when no other art form is? Maybe the quasi-religious notions that have come into the Western haiku world via then Zen-bagage, the notion that haiku is a special kind of poetry that needs an especially developed sensitivity (the NOW-misunderstanding*) has something to do with it, maybe the inability to let other people write by their own preferences, maybe… who knows. Or maybe the answer isn’t that straight forward. As well as the seeds of curiosity and exploring lies with in the human nature so does the tendency to become leader, to “have something to say” (e.g. rule others), to be chief of the tribe, the wise old elder to whom all the young ones come to ask for advice and who can “guide the unenlightened/dim” in questions of right or wrong. And of course it must be somewhat of a disappointment to see the generations following you place your oeuvre on the same level as the works of those you might think your inferior. To find out that you are just one among many and not THE ONE … You clear a new path through the jungle and the youth let it bet covered with undergrowth because they’d much rather go in the opposite direction … Every artist, every writer, spends his/her life trying to get better (hopefully) and that, only that, is what counts. IF someone wants to walk the path you cut, it’s good. If not, be satisfied with what you have accomplished. The chances are yours will be one of many tracks being tried out and checked. There is no Christ, Buddha or Emperor in haiku whom we should alone follow. There is no ONE HAIKU. Haiku is many. Working against this fact is fighting windmills, going against the natural growth of haiku, nay, of everything. This doesn’t mean that is no core in haiku, nothing that sets it apart from 3-line (Western) poetry. Of course there is. You know haiku when you read it – if you’re aptly trained. Haiku too needs some training to read.

Time and time again academics have tried to define haiku and only by reading them, study what has been written about haiku over the centuries as far as we’re able to, we might possibly arrive at a “description” of it. And definitions merely points to a specific set of aesthetics not taking into account that haiku develops. A synthesis of every “definition” attempted might just point in the direction of the core of haiku.

Some might think it unfortunate but a Canon in haiku doesn’t exist. You can set up a set of aesthetics and rules, norms and elements to be present in haiku for the type you like, but they will only count for yourself. They don’t apply to others just because you say so. To some extend “right” or “wrong” haiku is a subjective judgement. Not an objective classification.

As it happens in other arts people mix what they find useful and interesting. No isms or genres remains pure in the long run. Newer writers have far more to build on than those who went before them and in the 21st century (as it was in the late 20th) eclecticism and cross-over forms will become even more prevalent. Cross-pollination creates new beautiful art.

The diversity in haiku isn’t a threat to haiku itself. On the contrary. It’s essential. As I have said repeatedly: it’s a sign of vitality. In spite of its brevity haiku is a powerful poetry form for writing everything from get-well-cards to avant-garde haiku that may need numerous readings and some research to sink in.

Haiku is like water, like a river with (yea, yea, another allegory) countless tributaries, lakes muddy or clear, it swells in places and dries out in others, some branches lead into places that haven’t yet had water, other branches are attempted dammed up and used for private fishing, some water takes on the states of vapour, clouds, sweat (the water is in us as well), urine, tears and so on. But it’s all water.

We all might get a little richer if our view on haiku was inclusive rather than exclusive. If we accept differences in haiku in the same way we (try) to accept that all people don’t think like us, we might actually regain some hope in the future of haiku (if we’ve lost it, that is) if we put on a wide-angle lens instead of looking at it through a microscope. Accepting the diversity of haiku might even open up the possibilities of fruitful cross-pollination (happens anyway) and might add to our own way(s) of writing. For instance, instead of being so overly focused on American ELH for instance, we might try to look in the directions opened up to us by groups such as World Haiku Association that includes haiku from very many parts of the world. We might look for European haiku, African, South-American, Mongolian and what have you and we might learn of other ways of making use of this unique poetry form. The possibilities for learning are still endless.

ELH doesn’t equal American haiku. Far from it.

*http://haikureality.webs.com/esejeng79.htm An old one but still useful.

Get localglobal

As no one person’s, school’s, group’s or formation’s perception of haiku is “the right one” so is no country’s take on haiku the right one. Undoubtedly the American way has for some years been prevalent to a point where they might have seen themselves as the true heirs of the Japanese tradition. This might have been because of the right people at the right time took haiku seriously and did it in a generation where authorities were to be rejected, fought against and discarded. (That some of them themselves might have ended up acting as authorities is another matter, another case of: the way the world goes). They might have been better at organizing themselves contrary to the European writers who (and I’m only guessing here) might have another literary culture to deal and struggle with, a heavier body of academics. Maybe the early beatnik culture in America was the perfect soil for the Japanese seed, maybe being taken up by French intellectuals didn’t provide the right milieu for a sub-culture of writing to become fertile. And in neither places haiku has gained entry into the “golden halls”, though. And that is probably still is a long way away.

With usual American entrepreneurship they (the American writers of haiku) have managed to form a “society” for haiku with journals, publishing houses, associations, web-sites, research and all your heart can desire and I salute them for their efforts, energy and promotion of this unique poetry form. Haiku surely has taken roots in the West to a degree where some of it actually has become Western. In the parts of the world where English is the “lingua franca” of our times we owe a lot to the Americans in that respect. But we also “grow our own”; and luckily the same entrepreneurship now have spread to a number of countries.

Now we have to learn (discover) that ELH doesn’t equal American haiku. It is as much a “para-national” haiku as anything else. At times it seems, though, that the massive output of American haiku have lead to the misunderstanding that it is the “norm” for Western lingua franca haiku or ELH in general. But it isn’t. Haiku is being written in English all over the world for international understanding, sharing and appreciation even if people knows nothing about American haiku specifically. We European haijin need to work with our European identity as far as our writing goes, or rather not to emulate the American way but continue to create our own. Luckily 2012 saw some good European (British) initiatives in publishing and a journal with British and Danish editors. This added to an already considerable amount of haiku “initiatives”. Still, this blogger would like to see new pan-European enterprises that would make European haiku available to more people around the world.

But getting into European haiku is much harder. We use a wide variety of languages and because of the genre’s lack of appreciation (it’s not real poetry, is it? I mean, three lines. What can you possibly do in three lines? O.K. for vignettes and bon-mots on cute cards … but poetry?) very little, if any, is translated for easier access and reading across the language barriers. Eastern European haiku has thrived for many years (some say longer than the American ELH) but the language barriers are tough to overcome and not all translations into English are any good. The 60 years of being cut out from European culture apparently also mean that education in English hasn’t been as thorough as in Western Europe. A bilingual anthology of Croatian haiku can be found at Scribd: http://www.scribd.com/doc/87009611/An-Unmown-Sky-Antology-of-Croatian-Haiku-96-2007 shows how well this can be done.

This is why an initiative like World Haiku Association founded by Ban’ya Natsuishi, Jim Kacian and others in this blogger’s eyes is one of the most important enterprises of the past years. Here haiku from many, many countries is represented and for a Dane like me it’s a treat, a joy, an uplifting and inspiring experience to read haiku from Africa, the Americas, Nepal, Japan and different parts of Europe. It proves to me that if we are willing to look beyond our own gates and hedges we might actually get richer and learn something. The first thing we learn is: things aren’t as we thought they were. Different cultures, circumstance, history, realities give birth to a locally based haiku and we see that the themes and subjects we thought eternal and common are just fragments of a variety of things significant for people living in different places. Again: haiku isn’t the same all over. Indeed haiku in its core is universal and the proof is out there. It’s just a matter of not being self-centred as a culture but curious. You will find examples on: http://worldhaiku.net and in the world haiku anthologies published annually. Various papers on diverse matters are also available there but the site seems somewhat neglected as there are many “404’s” (missing pages). But look under “Poetry” and you’ll find interesting and exiting works.

World Haiku as such isn’t a genre but a way to look at haiku recognizing that it is a global form with local roots. Here we meet poets writing from within their own culture with very little aspiration of making it appear like the standard Western haiku. To further haiku as a global poetry form and not tied to any one country/culture Ban’ya Natsuishi promotes “keywords” rather than “kigo”:

“Seasonal words, therefore, are keywords only expressing locality. That is because the unique climate of a particular area (like Japan, the U.S., or Europe) cannot be set as a standard for the world; it is merely one aspect of the global environment and of the diverse cultures in the world.”

The discussion on and “development” of these “non-seasonal” keywords continues in various places on the web and elsewhere.

And so with optimism we can reassure ourselves that haiku isn’t about to die and that it is beyond the control of any one person, body or country.


One thought on “Expansion, contraction pt 6/6 and Get localglobal

  1. Good points and great links, Johannes. I can think of two other possible factors which can make some haiku poets irritable and pedantic.

    1. That as you say most people think: “it’s not real poetry, is it? I mean, three lines. What can you possibly do in three lines? O.K. for vignettes and bon-mots on cute cards … but poetry?”

    2. One can acquire a longing for a certain almost-transcendent moment induced by haiku (for me, they might be by classic authors and some modern traditional ones and also occasionally some more “gendai” haiku – incl yours by the way) and want to argue against anything too “boring” or too “weird” to produce that effect.

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