Thursday, March 8, 2018



Each haiku anthology published by the Hailstone Haiku Circle based in Kyoto – I had previously read two of them – offers the reader a complex poetic experience, as well as giving rise to a torrent of thoughts. First and foremost, these anthologies, although written in English, by and large transcend the local and often contradictory concept of ‘English Language Haiku’ (ELH). Further, these are rare collections of modern haiku where the poetic gets beyond the cultural, while the culture is never neglected. On the contrary, culture is given a lot of attention. I would therefore wholeheartedly recommend the latest collection ‘Persimmon’, as an important, original and rather unusual poetic phenomenon, one that exemplifies the concept of ‘international haiku’, pioneered and developed in the last two decades by several poets and intellectuals, one of whom is the author of these lines.
Let me first of all pose a question: why is a collective work at all necessary in haiku? One part of the answer lies in the knowledge that haiku, as its name suggests, is not an independent poem – the shortest poetic form with the status of a poem is hakka (5/7/7), which is two syllables longer than a haiku, albeit not as established as waka or tanka (5/7/5/7/7), which usually contain two phrases, totalling 14 syllables more than a haiku. Haiku is therefore more of a poetic phrase than a proper, fully-fledged poem. Haiku’s open-endedness, its openness to different interpretation, is its most important characteristic. This trait, together with a simple form of metaphor (juxtaposition), is the basis for collaboratory work as a sort of ‘jam variations’ on a theme, whereby everyone plays around in the space opened up by a haiku. In this way a theme is explored collectively, yet a haiku poem still remains open, and a theme is never concluded, wrapped up. This is where the discreet charm of haiku lies.
The simplicity of the juxtaposition relates to the elliptical accessibility of the haiku form. Traditional haiku, relying on juxtaposition, therefore differs from the concept of modern haiku (Gendai) which often develops the metaphor into an allegory. Due to the allegorical nature of their haiku, Gendai poets seldom write haibun: the allegory itself is a sort of metaphor expanded into a story. This means that in Gendai Haiku the story is already condensed in the haiku itself. This is why poets writing traditional haiku engage in writing haibun which serve as a narrative complement to a haiku, whereas Gendai poets are inclined to essay writing. The open-endedness of the haiku thus offers the opportunity to add something: pictures (haiga), linked verses (renku), prose (haibun), and collaboration as a kind of thematic, stylistic exercise. All this poetic wealth is present in the international haiku circle Hailstone, making their collections real poetic treasure troves which have no equivalent in the haiku of today.

Persimmon contains more than 168 individual haiku all of which are interconnected in one way or another: groups made up of 14 to 16 poets are brought together under the heading ‘haiku village’, thus forming ‘nests’ made up of 26-38 haiku; smaller groups of poets (6), a sequence of poems on Carmina Burana (41 verses), and ‘Calendar Says’, an alphabetical collection of poems based solely on ‘key words’, or more accurately, key verbs. This reminded me of a discussion I had some twenty years ago with a Japanese poet, Ban’ya Natsuuishi, a creator of the ‘key word’ concept. He visited me here in Slovenia on three separate occasions, so we had ample time for discussion. I had come to realize, through my own practice, that nouns are not necessarily key words in a poem and I wanted to clarify this with the author of the concept himself. Ban’ya claimed that various words in a poem qualify as ‘key’, including adjectives, adverbs and verbs, and that the choice depends on poetic emphasis. This vital insight we employed while writing ‘Mitsu no Sekai Renku’, the first multicultural, democratic renku by D. Anakiev, Kim Goldberg (US) and an Indian poet, Manu Kant. This renku introduced new rules and thoroughly affirmed the ‘key word’ concept as a basis for linked verse, while at the same time disposing of seasonal associations as the basis for renga/renku poetics. We believe that we thus opened a door to multiculturalism in haiku and renku.

The Hailstone Haiku Circle poetry collections confirm the importance of ‘key words’ in international, multicultural haiku. In the previous collection, Meltdown, key words were paramount whereas in Persimmon they featureonly at the end of the book. In the last two decades two averse concepts in haiku have emerged: on the one hand there is English Language Haiku (ELH) as a monocultural, limited and occasionally chauvinist concept, and on the other, there is the multicultural concept of ‘International Haiku’ into which, and with great pleasure, we can include this very special and specific work by the Hailstone Haiku Circle. What might seem only an insignificant detail, but to me is of the essence: doctrinally the members of the ELH alliance tend to begin their haiku with a small letter, as if these are not poems but snippets of reality, whereas the members of the Hailstone Circle are aware they are writing Poetry, thus starting their poems with a capital letter.

Translated by: Branko Manojlović


Stephen Gill said...

Thank you for the nice review, Kame-san. Branko did a good job with the translation into English, too.
If anyone wishes to order a copy of Persimmon, they can email Hailstone Publications in Osaka on hikamey7 at yahoo dot co dot jp. Hisashi Miyazaki will instruct you how to pay US$18 or equivalent in Euro, which includes postage and packing.
I liked the final comment about initial capital letter indicating that we regard haiku as a form of poetry. Yes, indeed!
All the best.

Stephen Gill said...

If you've time, can you kindly add to the end of Branko's translation here the selection of haiku you had in the original Serbian review? B. said there were 6 poems. It would be encouraging for the poets. Thanks again.

Stephen Gill said...

... just in case this might help you: the pages of the original book that they are on are 12, 50, 80, 64, 40 and 65 according to B.