Sunday the 2nd of June in Melbourne was a cold day with rain predicted. Victoria had snow in the hills and mountains in the previous week. It was officially he second day of winter and it certainly felt like winter to me, as I’d been holed up in my draughty house with the cat and noticed how short the days had become. It’s Bashō’s “autumn deepens” haiku, though, that’s been coming to my mind:
秋深き 隣は何を する人ぞ
aki fukaki tonari wa nani o suru hito zo
Autumn deepening –
how does he live, I wonder?
(translator: Haruo Shirane)
As has become usual for our winter meeting, we met outside Beer DeLuxe in the Atrium at Federation Square, where we could get coffee, then found a table upstairs which was under shelter and had a gas heater. This time we welcomed two guests (both of whom we hope will become members) Sheryl Hemphill and Louise Hopewell. After a short round of members’ news, Rob Scott led us on the topic of ‘Kigo, part 2: the Australian Experience’. Discussion was lively, interested and interesting. Takanori Hayakawa had led a previous session, ‘Kigo in Kyoto and Melbourne’, in December 2018, so we had an excellent foundation from which to explore the issues and problems of applying the concept of kigo to our Australian context.
Rob had sent us three well-selected pieces on the topic of kigo and its possible alternatives for pre–reading: his own Master’s thesis ‘The History of Australian Haiku and the Emergence of a Local Accent’ (particularly pp particularly pp. 69-85), Charles Trumbull’s ‘Seasonality: English-Language Haiku in Search of its Vertical’ and Beverley George’s 2007-2008 article ‘Haiku and the Seasons’ which also contains links to John Bird’s ‘Dreaming’ editorials on the issue of Australian kigo.
It is clear that, as a multicultural society, Australia can never have kigo in the sense that monocultural Japan has. Kigo is founded deeply on a combination of its own ancient mythology and agrarian past, to which many features of culture has been added over the centuries. I have been told that in Basho’s time there were at most a couple of hundred kigo, but now there are thousands. The extent to which Australians can all legitimately draw on Australia’s indigenous mythologies and ways of life is limited, though vital. The same goes for the various cultures, including myths and religions, of our various immigrant ancestors. So the ‘keywords’ concept is more likely to be fruitful. As long as we don’t slip into Okka cliché; Paul Hogan was hilariously great after the Channel 9 News, but that was then . . . or into po-faced reportage.
Yet I believe that all Australians, from our various regions, can experience seasonal changes as they affect our own moods and states of mind. As “autumn deepens” into shorter and shorter daylight hours, with brown leaves of non-native trees skidding along city roads and streets (at least where we are , at the Southern end of this contintent), with more evidence in our cities of more and more people sleeping rough on sheltered streets, we, too, are apt to wonder how that neighbour we haven’t seen for a while, is doing. After all, life is brief, whether it’s the life of a particular leaf or of a dog or of a person. Some kigo (Japanese) when not just thrown in as a season stamp but given in context of a human mood or state of mind, as demonstrated in Basho’s ‘autumn deepens/ deepening autumn’ haiku, above, capture what we might call a spirit of the season: a spirit no doubt projected by the human mind, a human mood or insight that finds in the world some kind of ‘objective correlative’, something ‘out there’ that seems to answer the inner feeling.
As an afterthought: given World culture, some Japanese kigo become easy to share as they might apply to many world regions and the season might correspond to a common psychological mood or spirit. This haiku is by a Japanese-American, currently President of the HSA:
hint of autumn –
a Kurosawa film
Faye Aoyagi, Simply Haiku Winter 2005, vol 3 no 4
I wouldn’t feel at all fraudulent if I’d written it in Melbourne’s autumn. I wish I had written it. I can’t know for certain which film Aoyagi had in mind, but I know which of Kurosawa’s films comes to my mind, and that’s enough. (I replayed Ikiru on Sunday night).
The Red Kelpie Haiku Group meeting for spring 2019 is scheduled to be held on Sunday 8th September (2nd Sunday in September) . As requested, I’ll take my turn to lead, this time on the topic of ‘One-line Haiku’. We welcome guests and new members. Enquiries from haiku writers who might like to join our group or be invited along as guests should be directed to Lorin Ford by email: haikugourds at gmail dot com, with ‘Red Kelpie Haiku Group’ in the email subject bar.
— Lorin Ford, Melbourne, June2019