Sunday, March 11, 2018


Dimitar Anakiev

I have recently come across an online article, a commentary on my haiku. The article in question was penned by Robert Wilson, entitled ‘A Butterfly Wearing Tennis Shoes: What Is and Isn’t a Haiku’, which in its abridged form contains 8795 words. The text was also shared by an obscure Serbian haiku portal ‘Haiku Reality’. I must confess I do not read American haiku literature. That is why my response is five years late. I ‘met’ Mr. Wilson, then an editor of a popular haiku fanzine ‘Simply Haiku’, via his aggressive intrusions into my online Haiku MasterClass (HMC). Wilson was consistently trying to point out to the HMC members that I don’t know what constitutes haiku, in lieu offering his own expertise on the subject. Let us then look into this expertise of his. Firstly, my haiku followed by Wilson’s evaluation.

A Neanderthal man
bombing Afghanistan back
to the Stone Age

D. Anakiev, 2001

Balkan poet, Dimitar Anakiev, calls the above poem a haiku. It is an incomplete sentence, an anti-war diatribe utilizing a three-line format that resembles a haiku visually. Apart from its visual similarity, Anakiev's poem is the antithesis of hokku composed by Matsuo Basho, Yosa Buson, and Issa Kobayashi. It is subjective, leaves little to interpret, makes no reference of nature, and has no connection with zoka, which Basho called essential to the genre. Instead of utilizing aesthetic styles (tools) to invoke a surplus of meaning that every reader can interpret differently, Anakiev makes a blunt, biased political statement, ranting: A "Neanderthal man bombing Afghanistan back to the Stone Age." The poem is a senryu, not a haiku, a distinction few in international haiku circles understand.

Let us take one point at a time.

1/ According to Wilson the poem is an incomplete sentence. What is the point of this qualification? Would it better for poetry if this was a ‘complete sentence’? This is mere prattling, an attack for the sake of an attack.

2/ My poem, according to Wilson, is an anti-war diatribe. Now, even if it was just a diatribe against war (and not poetry) it would still justify its existence in a humanitarian sense (hence in a poetical sense) and still possessing a higher value than epigone ‘poems’ by Robert Wilson. Incidentally, if I were to write a mere one-directional diatribe, it would probably go something like this:

George Bush, oh
you bastard – get the hell
out of Afghanistan!

However, instead of a direct statement I painted quite a complex picture which apparently proved too complex for Wilson’s one-track mind, which, unable to comprehend the poem’s implicit connotations, resorted to attacking it.

3/ Wilson claims my poem has nothing in common with a ‘hokku’ form. How to understand this inconsistency: at first he talks about haiku then suddenly jumps to hokku? Is the grand editor of simple mind able to distinguish between haiku and hokku?!

4/ My poem is ‘subjective’ (sic!), continues Wilson his dilettante foray into haiku poetry: and what poem is not subjective? In the same text in a preceding paragraph Wilson claims ‘Basho’s haiku are psychological sketches, however Basho is not a subjective poet’. So, Basho’s psychological sketches are objective?! Not only Wilson’s general learning is problematic – lack of understanding of basic terminology as its logic application – he even turns his claptrap into poetic dogma. It is altogether a different question as to who exactly is to follow this dogma. There is an old saying in these parts: ‘Every doctor has his own patient’.

5/ My poem ‘leaves little to interpret’: here Wilson reiterates, in a slightly different way, his earlier claim about ‘diatribe’. He is unable to explicate the poem’s layered structure thus missing on its metaphorical implications. The latter are accessible to poets and people with poetic sense, yet Wilson has no poetic talent and has nothing to say even though he wishes so. That is why he is forced to spit on other poets so that he can raise himself above poets.

6/ My work ‘makes no reference to nature’ (sic!): it is curious that such an ‘expert’ on Japanese poetry is unable to identify elements of nature in my poem. Not only does he lack poetic talent in discerning metaphorical nuances, he also shows ignorance of haiku writing technique. And yet Wilson is haiku editor and has his followers in the Balkans! Let me explain: nature in haiku is presented through the seasonal cycles, and is expressed by ‘kigo’ – a seasonal term. There are multiple types of kigo, classified and listed in Saijiki, a kigo lexicon. Saijiki classifies ‘kigo’ into various sections, such as: sky, earth, plants, animal etc. One of these sections is ‘human life’. In this section there is for example a term ‘beer’, which is a summer kigo, or warm sake, a winter kigo. As the American invasion of Afghanistan commenced on October 7th, this clearly indicates a season – autumn. My poem therefore includes a kigo and the seasonal cycle, something that Wilson fails to notice.

7/ My work, says Wilson, has ‘no connection with zoka… essential to the genre’. The mystical term ‘zoka’ is used here in order to confuse those who are unfamiliar with its Japanese meaning. This term in fact signifies the transience of life, i.e. ‘nothing lasts forever’, or in its Ancient Greek equivalent ‘panta rhei’ – ‘all flows’. It is hard to understand the narrow-mindedness of someone who is unable to notice the instability and impermanence of this world in the act of bombing, a total destruction. However, we have seen Wilson being unable to recognize neither the metaphor nor the ‘kigo’ in this poem, and it comes as no surprise he is also unable to recognize ‘zoka’. What is even more worrying is that Wilson treats haiku as genre (an American fad). Is the sonnet genre or a poetic form? Is the quatrain genre or a poetic form? Is the novel genre or a literary form? Short story? Through his ‘genre’ claim Wilson has shown himself to be a literary analphabet, a man with a limited outlook, one who takes poetry as a hostage of his own ego.

8/ Finally, the assertion by expert Robert Wilson, that my poem is a ‘senryu’, not a haiku. After all the bogus criticism it would be unrealistic to expect for this claim to be true. I will nevertheless set out the major differences between a senryu and a haiku. Senryu is based on intellect, it is a sort of humorous remark, a witticism, whereas haiku is an emotional poem incorporating a metaphysical dimension. How facile can you be to take a bomb-dropping scene as a ‘humorous remark’?

Robert Wilson’s criticism is typical of one mediocre state of affairs in American haiku formed during the Cold War era, and which almost completely shattered the enthusiasm and legacy of the Beat Generation poets. The destruction of form as well as limiting haiku to a narrow cultural niche, are the main characteristics of the contemporary American haiku – none of these poets are significant on a national level. R. Wilson’s assessment of my poem reminded me of Jernej Kopitar’s disapproval of France Prešern, a 19th century Slovene poet. Prešern’s advice to Kopitar was to stick to his shoes (‘Kopitar’ in Slovenian means shoemaker) alluding to an ancient Latin proverb. No better advice for many of today’s ‘haiku experts’.

Translated by Branko Manojlović

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