Why do I read and write haiku?
Like so many people, I guess, I’ve always been intrigued by what I can only call the mystery of life. What are we? Questions, questions, questions . . . In younger and more certain days I looked for answers and followed many trails only to end up with even more questions. Now, in my ageing and more mellow days I’ve come to accept questions for just what they are – questions. At last I allow mystery to be mystery. And this is where haiku fits in.
For me, haiku is a way of capturing the fleeting nature of nature. No other poetic form seems suited so well to bringing the delicateness of the world to the page, and to illuminating the way things balance before they fall over or take flight. Or something close to both, as in this one by Issa (maybe my favourite of all haijin), translated by R.H.Blyth:
Haiku brings me joy. It brings me joy when I experience a moment of inspiration and it brings me joy when I am able to translate that moment into poetry. Writing haiku encourages us to be present, to look, really look at the world in which we live to see things with a fresh perspective. When we stop and take time to observe, we experience our surroundings fully with all our senses. We truly live in the moment.
I enjoy trying to capture in words the unique and distinctly Australian character of my local area, noticing the changes in seasons, the plants, birds and animals. I also enjoy thinking about how people interact with each other and with their landscape. Filling my notebook with poems gives me great satisfaction. There is a sense of solitary joy, but joy also comes from reading the work of others, especially when I read a brilliant haiku and it continues to resonate with me in what Wordsworth described as ‘that inward eye’.
We go back a long way. I love them, I trust them, I embrace them and i turn to them for joy, inspiration, comfort and reassurance. Haiku are for staying in touch with, for visiting time and time again, for remembering, for bringing alive old friends, including those that are no longer with us. Haiku speak to me and they touch me. As through John Knight’s
at the airport wrapped in that last kiss the still blue sky
Here John, who loved love, captures the essence of great haiku – conveying insight into a special moment best summed up by the early American haiku poet, J W Hackett:
Lifefulness, not beauty, is the real quality of haiku.
The following thoughts first appeared on the HaikuOz website in 2001, originally posted by John Bird.
It comes as no surprise that when Janice Bostok visited Bob Jones, they spent a morning talking about haiku. Bob raised the subject of “karumi” and explained that karumi is the mood of lightness which informs much of Basho’s late-life poetry and that few western poets seem to have engaged it in their haiku. Bob gave this example of Basho’s karumi:
so cool the wall against my feet a noonday nap~
When editing submissions to FAHA (First Australian Haiku Anthology), Janice Bostok and I noted a leaning towards profundity, and we thought Bob’s comments might provide counterpoise. With the permission of all concerned, I quote from a letter Bob subsequently sent to Janice, and in which Bob returns to his theme. ……….. John Bird.
“A couple of important issues were raised that we didn’t have enough time to explore. One of them concerned the mood of karumi, which has been a chief interest of mine over the years, particularly in relation to my own haiku. You asked for my understanding of it and I couldn’t easily come up with an explanation. I think most serious students of haiku have a hard time coming to terms with Basho’s later works. In many respects the poems seem bland and a little bit thin. Basho himself likens karumi to shallow water over a sandy bed, which certainly seems to go against any sense of mystery or depth. However I think the main thing to get from this likeness is the idea of transparency. Nothing’s hidden, or even hideable, in the mood of karumi. Everything’s out there, plainly shown. Everything’s part of the open secret. Continue reading “Karumi – Bob Jones on lightness in haiku”
Beverley George is president of the Australian Haiku Society
The entire Japanese poetic tradition is grounded in the observance of the passing of the seasons, and it is quite simply second nature for Japanese to view human emotions through seasonal metaphors. Liza Dalby
The link between seasonal awareness and the writing of Japanese haiku is apparent. What is not so clear and causes much debate is whether this essential aspect of Japanese haiku can be successfully adopted into other cultural sensibilities and linguistic frameworks, including the English language.
In this article I would like to discuss the situation in Japan as I have observed it directly, rather than relying on readily accessible texts such as those by William J Higginson and Donald Keene and the pioneering work of RH Blyth, Harold G Henderson and James W Hackett, with which readers interested in haiku will already be familiar. I would then like to offer some thoughts about the importation of haiku into Australian writing and how it might be more widely understood and better incorporated. Three visits to Japan in the past two years and ten years of studying haiku do not an expert make, and I hope the tone of this paper is discursive and exploratory rather than in any way prescriptive. Writing haiku is a journey, not a destination, and it has many pilgrims.
Read the entire article by Beverley George as a PDF file