Sunday, March 15, 2015


Dimitar Anakiev
Meltdown – The real haiku anthology of the 21st century

At the outset of the 21st century the world has been faced with fresh dilemmas with regard to social, political and cultural development. One cultural question that has been posed is, what the haiku will look like in the new century. Conflicting solutions have been proposed, by those who are negating the primacy of Japanese haiku tradition by ascribing it to alternative cultural values on the one hand, and by the apologists of classic haiku principles on the other. The biggest breakthrough has been the discovery of the concept of key words in the kigo technique, however the concept’s way forward is as yet unclear. There have been worthy attempts at grouping the ‘key words’ around a fictional cosmogony and based on the classical saijiki, around local cultural sites, or around a specific literary theme. The organizational structure of ‘key words’ remains flexible to various editorial concepts and investigations. Within the sphere of ‘key words’ there will be editorial endeavours, and I believe that these endeavours – in pursuit of the ideal concept – will delineate haiku in the 21st century. The choice of ‘key words’ will determine the anthologist’s credo, his world outlook. The editor of the Meltdown anthology, Stephen Gill, a British poet living in Kyoto, has offered two conceptual choices and editing of ‘key words’. The first one is part of a wider concept dubbed ‘Enhaiklopedia’, and it contains 53 key words, from animal to work. The second editorial choice contains 77 key words used to arrange Meltdown into thematic sections: from zone to apology.

Since we are dealing with open concepts I will allow myself some casual observations: the editor, the Meltdown anthologist tends to designate 2-3 key words for each letter of the alphabet (something lost in translation), and that in English looks like this: ‘a’ (apology, amphibian, art), b (business…) etc, so that these key words represent poetical themes embodied in the anthology. Further, there is a possible connection between two groups of key words similar to that between kidai and kigo, meaning between theme and the subject, useful when thinking about the conceptualization of key words. My final observation has to do with the character of key words: they can be seasonal (kigo) or non-seasonal. Here I give the example of both from Meltdown – I have translated the poems into Serbo-Croatian consistently as 17-syllable haiku1.

Considering the editorial concepts of haiku published in the 21st century it is necessary to pay attention to both a variety and number of poets included in any anthology, as well as to the question of whether the themes are relegated to poets in advance or whether the themes are post-determined, once the haiku had already been written. In the three aforementioned anthologies the scope and number of poets differ from each other: the first collection encompasses poets from Japan, the second poets from the Kumamoto prefecture on the island of Kyushu, the third collection is international. Compared with the three collections, Meltdown haiku are unique: they are produced within the international poetic circle ‘Hailstone’, which is made up of 24 poets. The collection, bearing in mind its collective spirit, could be to a certain extent likened to the second anthology ‘Hihi’, the haiku group from Kumamoto. Anthologies which are formed interactively as a mutual cooperation between the poets and the group’s leader, are typical of Japanese culture. The making of a poem is monitored and the collective spirit is pervasive in each poem as well as in the anthology as a whole. It is precisely the dual nature of haiku, simultaneously an individual and a collective product, that is strikingly missing from Western haiku which, devoid of its social role and a sense of belonging, looks more like a discarded poetical fragment rather than a poem as a dialogue between an individual and a society, this being one of the major traits of Japanese poetry.

The quality of the collective endeavour very much graces haiku collected in Meltdown and precisely for that reason this anthology is head and shoulders above all haiku collections published in English language. Here I am in complete agreement with its editor, Stephen Gill, who considers this haiku anthology the best in English language so far. This is not only because of a remarkably high quality of poems, seldom found in a Western anthology. This is one concise collection in which haiku as well as its authors are so densely intertwined that the anthology reads rather like a novel and in that way gives answers to all those questions about what haiku should look like in the 21st century, about the role of Japanese culture in contemporary haiku and about the role of English language. It is on these kind of questions that contemporary haiku most often stumbles.

The international haiku Hailstone circle was formed in Kyoto in 2000. Its member from Yugoslavia is a Serbian poet Branko Manojlovic. As a show of collective spirit I have translated one of his haiku which he wrote in collaboration with a Japanese poet Mt. Ogura (!!!)… (‘hototogisu’ haiku follows)

1 (here follows a translation of Waterbird – kigo, and War – non-seasonal, poems from Meltdown).

Translated by Branko Manojlovic

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