spring rain –
an empty swing hangs
above its puddle

John Bird

blue-sky

The Australian Haiku Society – The First 20 Years – A Retrospective

In 2020, we are celebrating twenty years of the Australian Haiku Society, which began in the year 2000. Over the next few weeks in our Featured Haiku series, we will be looking back on those twenty years as a way of tracking the journey of haiku in this country. All haiku featured will be sourced from the first three Australian Haiku Anthologies – and stay tuned for a call for submissions for a fourth which will be announced on this site! One constant in this journey is the extent to which poets have found new modes of expression within the genre. What is considered commonplace today would have been pushing the envelope twenty years ago. This series of articles, each focusing on one haiku, will look at some of the trends and changing interpretations of haiku over the past two decades, and hopefully some appreciation of the context for that change. By giving these poems a fresh airing, I hope it gives readers pause to reflect and gain some understanding of how this genre got to where it is now.

Rob Scott

We begin this series at the start. John Bird edited the First Australian Haiku Anthology (2000) which included this haiku. The beginning of the new millennium was a time of growing popularity and interest in the genre, attracting a new generation of poets who, through the burgeoning omnipotence of the internet, were exposed to global trends in haiku. One of those trends was the growing homogeneity in the use of kigo outside of Japan, something that Bird has written about himself. Kigo were widely used as a ‘nature image’, if not a seasonal marker, and haiku were still considered ‘incomplete without it’[1]. But the increasing globalisation of the form, in Bird’s and others’ view, often rendered kigo indistinguishable from region to region and country to country.

In between writing haiku that has been widely published over a long period of time, Bird’s attention has often been occupied by discussions about the ‘issue’ of kigo, and in particular, Australian kigo in haiku. His thoughts on this and other topics can be found on the Haiku Dreaming Australia website.

On the question of seasonality, and in the context of a discussion on the things that get lost in translation in the transformation of haiku after leaving Japan, Bird writes,

“The value of locating our haiku within the seasonal cycle is a given (and) if the season is integral to a haiku we are making and the context does not convey it, then let us use the name of the season—spring, late summer, winter wind…—rather than a second-hand and artificial symbol for that season.”[2]

He may have been thinking about this when he wrote ‘spring rain’. Using ‘the cut’ to good effect, Bird not only places us in a certain time, but also, a certain place. Not an especially Australian place, as this is not the central theme here. Rather, Bird with a delightful use of juxtaposition, paints a compelling image of the dichotomous nature of spring, when ‘nature’ (including children) bursts to life, only to be forced into periods of sporadic hibernation. Other elements of haiku writing popular of the time are present here, too, such as sabi and karumi, made famous by Basho. The sight of the ‘empty swing’ as it ‘hangs’ is a clear nod to the influence of sabi – a kind of lonely detachment, where we see things happening ‘by themselves’. The haiku, taken as a whole, is rooted in what I would call a karumi spirit, where the writer (and subsequently, the reader) becomes one with the object of the poem.

‘Spring rain’ is written in a fashion which locates the poet in the ‘here and now’.  And given Bird’s well-known aspirations for his haiku writing, we can trust that it is a product of his immediate environment. Moreover, Bird achieves what Halebsky (2014) calls “the cultivation of attention and aesthetic sensibility”. By employing some of the popular techniques of the time, Bird has written a haiku that is a classic of its day.

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[1] Halebsky, Judy, “Haiku in West Coast Poetics: What Kigo?” (2014). Faculty Authored Books and Book Contributions. 132.

[2] Bird, J. ‘Coming Clean on Kigo’, Haiku Dreaming Australia.

 

Works Cited

Bird, John, ‘Coming Clean on Kigo’, Haiku Dreaming Australia.

Bird, John, ‘Homogenous Haiku’, Haiku Dreaming Australia.

Halebsky, Judy, (2014) “Haiku in West Coast Poetics: What Kigo?” Faculty Authored Books and Book Contributions. 132.

Scott, Rob (2014) The History of Australian Haiku and the Emergence of a Local Accent. Research Master thesis, Victoria University.

 Rob Scott