Sunday, January 11, 2015


Dimitar Anakiev

3. What the Gendai haiku really means?

In previous chapters we were able to see that contemporary poets in general are individuals who are not to be trusted when speak about factual truth in an attempt to define own aesthetic. Contrary to expectations "masters of words", in defining aesthetics, use words according to their needs in very similar manner as contemporary politicians. In that way both tendencies we considered - classical (or neoclassical in America) and anti-classical (Gendai in Japan)- deem their aesthetic "modern" even they both are based in religious thinking about the word, so they are factually "pre-modern"; they call themselves "vanguard" when introduce their retrograde aesthetic concepts etc. Perhaps with "modern" they just wanted to say "contemporary"? Anyway classical tendency in haiku poetry seems to be explored in detail mostly thanks to the poetic myth and cult of Matsuo Basho and other classical masters (Buson, Issa, Shiki) while Gendai is relatively obscure, unknown and even disputed. So what is the essence of Gendai? Reading different description I found one of the most relevant by prominent Gendai author Hosinaga Fumio. Let's take a look what he says:

"The greatest power that haiku have is the gift of freedom," (5)

"...I have repellence, revulsion exactly against the formal rules and approach, kigo, and various formal necessities...
I do not believe the truth that the sea is blue. That I believe it is blue: an encompassing state of affairs that limits as blue, via the comprehension of my eyes: I believe only that. Though it is inconvenient, I wish to compose haiku with a free posture towards truth, that is, with reference to the encompassing situation. With this thought, I've been writing haiku freely, selfishly, for half a year. This is the result of my selfish six months. . . . As a matter of fact, there is a vast wilderness of lyricism beyond these haiku: the wilderness I failed to capture with a dull, sleepy-faced rebelliousness. This book reminds me afresh—I must start again with a clean slate and to this end, I cast out this book with good grace." (6)

The statement about freedom is taken from Basho so not specific for Gendai. But poet do not speak about real freedom, freedom in real world, he speaks about subjective sense of freedom or about temporary illusion of freedom. Word "freedom" is (typically) used imprecisely in poetic discussion similarly as British POP singer Jessie J sings: "I am sexy and free". Poets always want to give an absolute meaning to their relative, subjective truths. For poets of classical tendencies based in Buddhist ideology "freedom" usually means "freedom of ignorance" as a way of "harmony with world", way of recognizing higher "order" in the world. Gendai poets quite the opposite understand "freedom" as a liberation from concepts and orders. For them "freedom" is not harmony but chaos, not mind but emotions, not rational but irrational, blind force. When German poet Bertolt Brecht sings about "freedom" he, as a Marxist, understand "freedom" as social emancipation and not only as a subjective feeling. These are different concepts of freedom. So we must be very careful and deep readers to understand poetry! But this is not only a general remark! To understand better Gendai it is very interesting to point Hoshinaga's non-acceptance of "blue color of the sea"! That generally means "I do not believe my eyes" and "I do not trust my senses". The final consequence of this posture is "rejection of the world as such".

That, rejection of the world as such, is the most important point for understanding Gendai. The rejection of the world is recognized as a collective trauma for generations of poets that went through hard historical and personal experiences as a form of aesthetic escapism. European poetic and artistic movements of Dadaism, Surrealism, Expressionism and many others are a result of such intention. They are result of historic trauma with World Wars. Gendai is such tendency too. It is aesthetic movement historically determined by defeat of Japan in World War. Even Gendai poets built their argumentation in retrograde religiousness of Shinto their escapism from the world speak of affected and insufficient religious argumentation. They are wounded people without stable ground in the world. They are contemporary people using Shinto more or less as an excuse in particular social circumstances. Especially Ban'ya Natsuishi, who directly experienced French surrealism during his study in Paris writes haiku which can hardly be narrowed only to religious response to the world. The broader image of surrealism needs to be considered like next examples:

The mute girl talks:
It is art's imperfection.
This impenetrable speech.
* * *
A feather gives to a hat
A touch of lightness:
The chimney smokes.
* * *
The wind
Rolls a cigarette of air

Paul Éluard (1895-1952)

We already understood the differences between two main tendencies in haiku; speaking conditionally classical expression is linear, anti-classical (gendai) is exponential; classical haiku points mind, gendai haiku points heart (emotions); classical is about harmony, gendai about chaos; classical haiku is usually used in creating linked forms like haibun but you rarely see Gendai poets writing haibun. At this point I want to mention question of so called "haiku moment", a phrase that defines contents of classical Western haiku but in Japan it is practically unknown in theory of haiku. I discussed this question with Ban'ya in 2001 in Slovenia during Vilenica poetry festival- our discussion is later published in "Literary Journal" of main Slovenian newspaper "Delo"(7) Ban'ya answered: "Haiku moment is not simply a moment". By other words: "haiku moment" yes, if you want but the volume of "haiku moment" can be different, from very short moments to eternity, containing past and future. Open concept of time is why Gendai poets do not write haibun often: their haiku are already developed, enlarged, complex stories.

4. Methodology of writing haiku by Ban'ya Natsuishi

Ban'ya Natsuishi haiku shows many different faces but if we try to find some typical point we can say: his haiku are very often expressive emotional phrase developed to allegory. For didactical reason we can speak about triple process in composing of his haiku:

1-metaphorical guess (the idea)
2-playful, imaginative development of the story
3-combination with realistic, documentary detail(s)


Dropped a mummy
into the bog
my thumb broken

Wrapped in sound of water
he gets old
to soil something by handing

Winds, human beings
and memories have vanished
sound of stars

Ban'ya Natsuishi ("Black Card")

I can hardly see in poetry as above any kind of religious dogmatism nor Shinto neither Buddhism or any other. It is contemporary poetry which I already judged in a post of HaikuMasterClass "Introducing poet Ban'ya Natsuishi" as postmodernism:

Ban'ya Natsuishi is a pioneer of POSTMODERN style in haiku, which appears enigmatic for many Western lovers of Japanese culture and poetry. So, what "postmodern style" in haiku actually means? Postmodernism by definition means eclecticism. It prefers mosaic of influences to one particular standing point. Here, I will shortly introduce richness of different aesthetic influences that can be found in Ban'ya work:

1.NATURALISM (here, very brutal):

My father, mouth
and anus wide open–
a shining cloud


Invited by cats
my father is flying
from one cloud to another


The wind is heavy
smoke separates
man from man


A broken robot
does nothing but shout
"It's your fault!"


At the end of the dusty road
long silver hair
hanging down from a branch


Searching for a cradle
time stagnates
in the ear


A women escaping from
a man who ran back
to the moldy home

etc. just to get a sense of Ban'ya's work and postmodernism, which is a leading literary direction nowadays.

(To be continued by analyze of individual collections by Ban'ya Natsuishi)


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