clear water
a magpie’s song drops
into the pond

Lorin Ford

blue-sky

Continuing our retrospective journey through the first twenty years of the Australian Haiku Society we now switch our attention to the Second Australian Haiku Anthology (SAHA), released in 2006. The haiku in SAHA, as chosen by editors, Janice Bostok, Katherine Samuelowicz and Vanessa Proctor, were considered “the best being written by Australians at this time.”[1] One of the emerging haiku poets at this juncture was Lorin Ford, whose haiku ‘clear water’, is the subject of this article.

The history of Australian haiku is one of literary contortion. For the past one hundred years, Australian poets have been writing poems in a genre that has been imported from a foreign culture, translated by people with, at best, limited knowledge of the original Japanese texts, and written by poets conforming to broad approximations fashioned by those translations, or to a range of Western poetic sensibilities, or a mixture of both. From its earliest sighting to the present day, Australian haiku has been characterised by a concoction of emulation, bold variation and recreation.

Two great tensions characterised haiku’s progress towards the end of last century – the early, well-intentioned but misguided translations of Japanese haiku by people like Harold Stewart, and the modernised, global-minded sentiment of Australia’s first and primary haiku educator, Janice Bostok. The conflation of these two forces placed haiku in a stasis which slowed its early progress and bestowed encumbrances on the achievement of a truly local genre, from which Australian haiku is now beginning to emerge.

One poet who has been at the forefront of the charge towards an approximation of an ‘Australian’ identity within this turbulent environment is Lorin Ford. Writing haiku that has the stamp of international trends, Ford’s haiku also has a characteristic local voice, rich in the imagery that takes us ‘smack dab to her native Australia’[2] Her first collection of haiku, a wattle seedpod, shows a poet clearly engaged in the art of haiku and drawing on her native surrounds, furnishing her poetry with both local and international appeal.

There is a perceptible sense of the Australian landscape, both rural and urban, in her poems. She also exhibits a profound connection to the art and history of haiku. In ‘clear water’ we have an artfully sketched and overtly Australian rural scene. But Ford’s reference to ‘the pond’ also echoes the famous Japanese haiku of Matsuo Basho:

old pond
a frog jumps into
the sound of water

The similarities in setting, sound and mood of the poem are striking. The movement of the song, ‘dropping’ into the clear water, provides a mirror for Basho’s leaping frog, creating an intriguing intertextuality across the poems. ‘Clear water’ is almost certainly paying homage to Basho, but it also acts as a kind of purging for Australian haijin – to extricate ourselves from muddy waters and find clearer air.  ‘Old pond’ has been the subject of translation, analysis and tribute ad nauseam, making the pond seem very ‘old’ indeed. The use of ‘clear water’ could be seen as an act of purification, a cleansing of the haiku ‘pond’, a pond in which modern haijin can now discover new worlds within the womb of the old. Moreover, Ford’s poem is an appeal, almost a gentle war cry, to let go of the past and immerse ourselves in our own native fauna, lest we keep flogging a dead frog.

Ford has become an international haiku citizen, editing online journals, judging competitions and winning awards both in Australia and elsewhere, but not at the cost of her local sensibility. Her writing is informed by a clear sense of her local environment which she has been able to venerate without jeopardising its broader appeal. This ‘balancing act’ between local and international awareness is a reality of a modern, globalised genre and Ford’s success demonstrates that sacrificing local bonds is not an essential ingredient for guaranteeing an international readership.

Haiku selection and commentary by Rob Scott

(Much of this article is taken from an extract of my thesis, “The History of Australian Haiku and the Emergence of a Local Accent”, published under the title “Australian Haiku in the Global Context” – which appeared as a feature article in “A Hundred Gourds” 4:1 December 2014.)

[1] Bostok, J. Samuelowicz, K. and Proctor, V. (Eds.) 2006, Second Australian Haiku Anthology, Paper Wasp, Qld.
[2] Ford, L. 2008, a wattle seedpod – haiku by Lorin Ford, Post Pressed, Qld. (cover notes)

Cited:

Bostok, J. Samuelowicz, K. and Proctor, V. (Eds.) 2006, Second Australian Haiku Anthology, Paper Wasp, Qld.
Ford, L. 2008, a wattle seedpod – haiku by Lorin Ford, Post Pressed, Qld.
Scott, Rob (2014) The History of Australian Haiku and the Emergence of a Local Accent. Research Master thesis, Victoria University
Scott, Rob (2014) Australian Haiku in the Global Context, A Hundred Gourds” 4:1 December 2014: http://ahundredgourds.com/ahg41/index_feature.html