slow afternoon …
a cabbage white caught
in the cat’s yawn
Selection and comments by Jacqui Murray
A haiku with instant impact that delivers much more with slow unwrapping. Jo has an enviable ability to conjure up evocative haiku in the Australian vernacular. At first sight this haiku could be a biscuit tin image but as keen gardeners know, the larvae of the innocent looking cabbage white butterfly can pack some nasty surprises in the veggie patch. Thus the deft juxtaposing of the suggestive phrase ‘slow afternoon’ with the pretty but perky pest caught in the cat’s yawn is both satisfying and challenging.
Die-hard traditionalists argue that this type of haiku is undesirable because it contains culture-specific language and/or content that excludes a global audience. The same could be said of many Japanese haiku, including some by the great masters. But, so the ongoing discussion also claims, haiku is grasped not by logic but by all five senses and for that reason in Japan rhetorical techniques such as kireji and kigo were invented to bridge logic and the senses. All well and good, but trying to apply Japanese ‘rules’ to the Australian condition is largely a waste of time and usually best avoided. That said, Jo’s multi-layered haiku does make a solid impact on the senses and does not defy logic.
Thankfully, Australian haiku has come of age. It has staked a claim to its own version of kigo. John Bird labeled his dictionary of uniquely Australian cultural and geographic terminology ‘Haiku Dreaming’. As Richard Gilbert an academic working in Japan, argued as far back as 2006, “as with all unique cultural treasures, kigo may be an achievement witnessed, studied and admired, rather than possessed.” The long serving author and originator of this Featured Haiku post, Simon Hanson, has done a great deal in recent times to encourage such study and admiration to also further the understanding of an Australian language of kigo, so too have haiku poets such as Jo. Her ‘slow afternoon’ is redolent of Australia’s summer heat reinforced by the yawning cat and the cabbage white whilst invoking a wide array of domestic and garden images – both peaceful and portentous. The haiku ends on a note of quirky Australian humour in the unintentional capture of the nonchalant butterfly by a drowsy cat which could also be regarded as a particularly Australian way of avoiding the pitfalls of senyru – or not as the mood takes you.
First published paper wasp 22 (2) 2016 p.15