Haiku @ The Oaks, Canberra

Tuesday 11 July 2017

One by one, from the chill of Canberra’s winter we entered the warmth of the National Library. At Greg’s suggestion we gathered here this time, instead of our usual venue at The Oaks – and not only because it was cosier! We had come to view the Library’s current exhibition Melodrama in Meiji Japan

As next year will be the 25th anniversary of Canberra’s ‘twinning’ with the city of Nara in Japan, this seemed an appropriate outing for our group, especially as a commemorative haiku/tanka anthology is being planned for release in 2018. We’d previously warmed to Greg’s challenge of submitting a group haiku sequence after our visit to the exhibition.

In the NLA foyer the five of us – Kathy Kituai, Glenys Ferguson, Gregory Piko, Marietta McGregor and Jan Dobb – met up with Susan, a volunteer exhibition guide who had most generously offered us her time and expertise for a personal group tour. What a privilege! (Alas our sixth member, Hazel Hall, was unable to be with us.)

Susan’s tour was indeed the highlight of our day!  She led us into the cultural upheaval of Meiji Japan (1868-1912) evident in this exquisite array of woodblock prints. These illustrations for Japanese novels – known as kuchi-e or ‘opening picture’ much like a frontispiece – accompany stories filled with drama, tragedy and intrigue, reflecting the uncertainty of the times. And Susan, to our delight, is familiar with many of these stories! The operatic melodrama of the kuchi-e was played before our eyes.

As Japan opened its doors to western culture, there was of course a two-way exchange. We saw reflections of the Impressionists in some of the Japanese prints just as we catch signs of Japanese influence in western art. Not only the artists, we added, but the poets! For, of course, the Meiji era spanned the lifetime of Shiki with his attempts to modernise haiku and tanka.

All too soon Susan’s tour came to an end and we expressed our thanks to her with the latest issue of Windfall tucked inside a card we’d all signed. (What a handy little size that publication is!)

Luckily, we persuaded Susan to join us for coffee in the Bookplate Café. A lively interchange engaged us all, our questions about the exhibition being matched by Susan’s sensitive interest in haiku/tanka. Indeed a memorable afternoon!

We’ve each promised ourselves some quiet personal re-visits now, to turn the inspiration into some haiku.

Jan Dobb