Friday, February 9, 2018

Richard Gilbert: Resignation as Associate from THF—Why did I resign?


There have been two group emails from Jim (Kacian, n.o.ed.) as Chairman of the Board of THF to all Associates and Members—some 16-18 people seem to be listed in the to: and cc: sections. The second letter is dated February 7, 2018. It’s not a confidential letter, though to be circumspect, I’ll just quote from the most relevant sections:

The Haiku Hall of Fame is a project of The Haiku Foundation. The most important work on this project is done by the Associates, who will choose nominees and develop content for those nominees. But the broad parameters of the project are defined by the THF Board. For example, the Board ensures that this project meets the Haiku Hall of Fame’s Mission Statement:

The Haiku Hall of Fame, a project of The Haiku Foundation, is dedicated to honoring those who have made a lasting contribution to the practice, growth and understanding of haiku around the world.

We realize that Associates might have various opinions about the broad parameters of the Haiku Hall of Fame: what the award should be called; whether poets and other figures working in languages other than English should be nominated, and so on. While the Board appreciates these perspectives, the broad parameters of the Haiku Hall of Fame are defined by the Board. If Associates have opinions on such matters, please include them with your nominations. These opinions will be provided to the Board, and they will decide how to respond. 

To keep Haiku Hall of Fame project on track, and in the absence of any other candidate stepping forward, the THF Board suggested that I take on the role of Conductor for the Associates. Please send your nominees, queries, and other communications to my email address.

Each Associate is expected to supply a roster of candidates for inclusion in the Haiku Hall of Fame. As you recall, there are three categories: English-Language Haiku Poet, International Haiku Poet, Haiku Contributor. Each Associate is asked to supply the names of 5 candidates for each category. The order in which you list your candidates has weight: your top candidate will be assigned 5 points, your second 4 points, and so on. This point system will be used to arrive at the final slate of candidates.

And in BODFACE TYPE: It is important that each Associate participates in this and every aspect of the HOF process.

And the deadline line for putting names forward is Feb. 28 (about 20 days hence).

Here is the “voting form”:

Category 1: English-Language Haiku Poet

Candidate #1 (5 points): ________________________
Candidate #2 (4 points): ________________________
Candidate #3 (3 points): ________________________
Candidate #4 (2 points): ________________________
Candidate #5 (1 point): ________________________

Category 2: International Haiku Poet

Candidate #1 (5 points): ________________________
Candidate #2 (4 points): ________________________
Candidate #3 (3 points): ________________________
Candidate #4 (2 points): ________________________
Candidate #5 (1 point): ________________________

Category 3: Haiku Contributor

Candidate #1 (5 points): ________________________
Candidate #2 (4 points): ________________________
Candidate #3 (3 points): ________________________
Candidate #4 (2 points): ________________________
Candidate #5 (1 point): ________________________

Prior to this letter, first a first letter, which read, in part:
“It is a great moment for The Haiku Foundation as it begins to realize one of its original missions. This message is intended to give you some guidelines for the process, and to bring you together as a group.” “The first thing to say is that the Haiku Hall of Fame is intended to be international in scope…. At the same time, The Haiku Foundation is primarily dedicated to English-language haiku, and so we have also included the category English-Speaking Haiku Poet as a counterweight.” “It is our opinion that living poets should be considered for inclusion in the Hall of Fame…”

A “Sample Ballot” was presented at the end of this first letter. I can assume that the names stated are “sample names” but the concept is made overtly obvious:
For your reference, here is The Haiku Foundation Hall of Fame Mission Statement, and a sample ballot:

Haiku Hall of Fame Mission Statement

The Haiku Hall of Fame, a project of The Haiku Foundation, is dedicated to honoring those who have made a lasting contribution to the practice, growth and understanding of haiku around the world.

A sample ballot for 2018 (for demonstration purposes only)

International Haiku Poet: Matsuo Basho; Chiyo-ni; Kaneko Tohta; Vladimir Devidé; Margaret Buerschapper

English-Language Poet: Amy Lowell; Jack Kerouac; Ezra Pound; John Wills; Marlene Mountain

Haiku Contributor: Lafcadio Hearn; R. H. Blyth; Harold G. Henderson; Alan Watts; Kay Titus Mormino

After receiving this first letter, I wrote a quick response, as a “reply to all” (February 2, 2018, (+9 UTC):

Hi Jim/THF,

I think there is a colonialist and reductive aspect in the "International Poets" category, perhaps in that from a US perspective "aka English-language haiku" there are 5 "international poets"—only 3 are Japanese—and this sets up a false quantitative equivalency between these 2 categories:

English-Language Poet: (all US poets? Fair?) and/vs. International Haiku Poet

My advice is that from an academic perspective, there should be a list of Japanese poets of at least a top 25 or so, to begin with. Japan should also be in its own category. [Japan also has its own canon]

There is no equivalency in a "hall of fame"—better said as perhaps "lauded notables"—[between Japanese haiku poets and poets elsewhere]. I personally dislike the populist "hall of fame" moniker, as literature isn't baseball or celebrity rock. If you like jazz music for instance, or classical music, having a "hall of fame" would be culturally reductive or just a measure of ignorance (both in terms of cultural diversity and music appreciation).

What you are really doing here is creating a canon. A listing in which canon-creation is the covert (because unstated) goal.

I think it would serve THF better to first have an open discussion, and open-minded discussion—antecedent to creating any list—of the benefits and pitfalls of canon creation.

I support canons, and perhaps it's time that Haiku in English can be hierarchically promoted to educational benefit, in providing some canonical poets. In this case, what is the criteria for construction?

As I've written (many times) over the years, in Japan (with a few exceptions) over the last 120 years to become a haiku notable requires three published books of around 200-300 haiku in each, all critically reviewed (as original and of high artistic merit); you'd also need to have written critical essays published in one of the respected professional haiku journals. There might be a handful of poets in haiku in English meeting anything close to this measure. Therefore, are haijin in Japan as "hall of famers" being (perhaps ignorantly) evaluated by wildly divergent measures of merit compared to English-language poets, concerning accomplishment? (Margaret Buerschapper is an interesting choice--how are you evaluating her work in German and how do we propose to evaluate works and accomplishments which aren't in English?) And, if you were to read even 1% of the haiku criticism and poetry available in Japanese, you would need to spend many years in devoted reading.

As a last point I need to express a concern regarding the Japanese poets—in the above list only Kaneko Tohta represents Japan, since 1860. No women at all (including the famed "Three S" haijin). No Shiki, who coined the term haiku, and modernized the form? Hekigoto? Santoka, Hosai, and all the great New Rising Poets (Sanki, etc.), the Proletarian poets, the postwar avant-garde poets? There are so many issues here in terms of Orientalism and reductive (unconsciously biased?) assumptions. I feel a careful consideration of equity and intercultural sensitivity is required—and a strong move away from reductions in cross-cultural representation—true for any public Foundation espousing an educative mission.

This is my caution. I urge others to contemplate the ramifications (and blowback) of any "hall of fame" list that claims universality or international perspective in haiku.

One of the main goals of promoting haiku as an art is that the newfound articulation of the genre and its development find greater acceptance in academic and wider literary-critical circles. The term "Hall of Fame" does the opposite: it reduces the stature of the art. And the "International Haiku Poet" category should be eliminated for the meanwhile—at least until some sort of intercultural evaluative process is agreed upon—regarding Japan, in particular, but as well how non-native English cultural-lineage and accomplishment is being understood and treated.

Thanks for reading this with an open mind,
Richard Gilbert

Richard Gilbert is the very initiator of creating the THF... He entered Naropa University in 1981, where he studied with Beat poets Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Peter Orlovsky, and Gary Snyder. Japanese haiku became a focus, under the tutelage of Patricia Donegan. He completed his Bachelor’s Degree in Poetics and Expressive Arts in 1982, followed by a Master’s in Contemplative Psychology, 1986. He earned a Ph.D. in Poetics and Depth Psychology at the Union Institute and University, 1990. In 1997, he moved to Japan to pursue Japanese haiku research. He is currently Associate Professor, Department of British and American Language and Literature, at Kumamoto University. In 2006, Richard was first awarded a two-year grant from MEXT (the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology) for research on modern Japanese haiku, and completes his third MEXT grant in 2015. In March 2008 he published Poems of Consciousness: Contemporary Japanese & English-language Haiku in Cross-cultural Perspective (Red Moon Press, 306 pages). His most recent book , The Disjunctive Dragonfly: A New Theory of English-language Haiku (R. Gilbert, Red Moon Press, 132 pp.) was published August 2013. The Kumamoto University-based Kon Nichi Haiku Translation Group, which he founded and directs, publishes haiku and haiku-related criticism in translation, both in book form and in mixed media at the website. His research papers are available at The beacon of his translating work are four books on Tohta Kaneko, the first complete presentation of this great poet into English - Tohta Kaneko: Poetic Composition on Living Things, The Future of Haiku (in interview with Tohta Kaneko), Selected Haiku(1937-1960), Selected Haiku(1961-2012), published by Red Moon Press 2011-2012.

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