Technique used in Modern Japanese Haiku

Vocabulary and Structure


1. The use of words: season words, keywords, and others

What is haiku? Is it a short poem depicting scenery and things in season, as it is often mistaken both inside and outside Japan? Or, is it a mystical language evoking satori (enlightenment) in Zen Buddhism, as is commonly perceived overseas? At the least, today’s contemporary Japanese haiku unfurls into boundless and deep development. Development that neither Matsuo Basho (1644-1694), who advocated free spirit for haiku during the late 17th century, nor Masaoka Shiki (1862-1902), who tried to modernize haiku during the late 19th century, would have ever imagined.
Yet, with the new expansion, why are season words still commonly used at the end of the 20th century.
Season words indicate season. Take, for example, tsuyu (rainy season) which indicates the long summer rainy season, about the time when plums ripen. The reader associates it with high humidity and discomfort on the main island of Japan from June to July. However, in countries without tsuyu, the word’s meaning is empty. Additionally, in areas without much rain, such as Hokkaido in Japan and Europe, the time for tsuyu is the peak of summer: with long daylight hours, and in some areas a summer festival is held.
Seasonal words, therefore, are keywords only expressing locality. That is because the unique climate of a particular area (like Japan, the U.S., or Europe) cannot be set as a standard for the world; it is merely one aspect of the global environment and of the diverse cultures in the world.
The Japanese inclination towards season words, including words indicating small animals and plants, came from animism: respecting spirits in not only human beings and animals, but also other elemental forms like rocks, water, fire, air, and the sun. Respecting and appreciating everything existing in nature have strongly and naturally endured in the Japanese’ consciousness of the 20th century.
Of course all living things including animals, plants, and things in nature are not necessarily associated with seasons. Rather, some poets find intrinsic values and universality in them. Therefore, I have asserted and now would like to stress again that the term, “keyword” should be used to refer to both kigo (season words, expressing seasons) and muki (non-season words, expressing anything other than seasons).
Here are some of the most outstanding contemporary haiku having keywords of animism.

One day
a nameless spring mountain
began to smile Nobuko Katsura (1914-)
For the young peach tree
one light year begins
with expectation Akira Matsuzawa (1925-)
When I can’t sleep
I count winter waterfalls
in my head Tohshi Akao (1925-1981)
Pushing and shoving
voices of the cherry blossoms
cross the ocean Tenko Kawasaki (1927-)
the white leeks
like shafts of light Momoko Kuroda (1938-)
To a youth
a spring bird comes to
announce himself Nana Naruto (1943-)
Cineraria daisies–
in my very act of waiting,
twinkling Sayumi Kamakura (1953-)
The keyword of each of the above haiku comes from animism: “a nameless mountain” in spring makes its presence felt more than human beings; “the young peach tree” refers to the starting point for all creation; “winter waterfalls” comforts those having trouble sleeping; “the cherry blossoms” depict a group of the dead; “the white leeks” shine mystically; “a spring bird” suggests a spirit of the fields and mountains; and “cineraria daisies” encourage those awaiting the arrival of another at a meeting place.
These keywords happen to express a feeling for a season, though they express animism rather than kigo, the seasonal aspect.
On the other hand, there are muki haiku, non-seasonal poem, whose keywords are not connected to seasonal aspects. It is a new style of expression in contemporary haiku. Freed from seasonal limitations, contemporary muki haiku have been enriched and expanded with keywords that indicate all living things (animals, plants, and any natural phenomenon), human beings themselves and the culture created by human beings (the body, human relations, family, culture).

On twenty televisions
at the start line
only blacks Tohta Kaneko (1919-)
I’m swimming
in darkness
keeping eyeballs clear Murio Suzuki (1919-)
A big blue sky!
have the buffaloes eaten
all of the clouds? Mikihiko Itami (1920-)
The iron eating
ferro-bacteria embraced
inside the iron Toshio Mitsuhashi (1920-2001)
A dazzling sea
somebody with bleached bones
stands up Kineo Hayashida (1924-1998)
Behind, a stillness
like my image cut out
of a forest of paper Kan’ichi Abe (1928-)
From the boulder
smiling up at heaven
a continent begins Ban’ya Natsuiishi (1955-)
Lower half of my body
surrounded by ocean fishes–
Saturday Takatoshi Goto (1968- )
In the haiku above, the keywords “television”, “eyeballs”, “buffaloes”, “iron”, “sea”, “paper”, “boulder”, and “Saturday” transcend seasons. Replacing season words, these non-seasonal keywords are the center of contemporary haiku and help crystallize contemporary Japanese’ diverse interests into a short poem.

2. Structure of haiku: kire (break) and a leap in viewpoint

In a short poem, haiku, it is expected that keywords of season or non-season words are effectively used to reach deeply into the reader’s feelings. This way haiku can avoid ending up as merely a short poem but can fully express rich con-tent that could be equivalent to that of a long novel.
Furthermore, to overcome its shortness, a vital technique, kire (break) is used.
Contemporary haiku has teikei (fixed form) and jiyuritsu (free form). Here is one of the shortest jiyuritsu haiku.

Coughing, even:
alone Hosai Ozaki (1885-1926)
The haiku above, consisting of “Coughing, even” (six syllables in the original Japanese) and “alone” (three syllables in the original), has kire (break), a shift in the content and rhythm between the two phrases. In only nine syllables of haiku, kire is the key that opens the reader’s heart.
Kire has been used as a vital technique since the Edo period in haiku. One can see that it was skillfully used in the classic pieces of contemporary haiku. Here are some of them. The slash, not included in the original, is used to indicate the kire.

Oh, a cuckoo!/
how far should I walk
until I meet somebody Aro Usuda (1879-1951)
Parting and parting/
the green grasses
the green mountains Santoka Taneda (1882-1940)
Patching up my tabi /
I am not Nora
but a teacher’s wife Hisajo Sugita (1890-1946)
Blossoming pear trees/
drifting clouds
on Katsushika plain Shuoshi Mizuhara (1892-1981)
Kire makes it possible for recent contemporary haiku to express the leap in the poet’s unique viewpoint and the shift in their poetic form. Here is another example.

Behind, a stillness/
like my image cut out
of a forest of paper Kan’ichi Abe (1928-)

In the space of stillness behind the poet, what his poetic intuition caught was a forest of white thin paper. This leap in poetic intuition, from one moment to the other, lies in the shift occurring between the phrases.
The following contemporary haiku also include kire revealing the leap in the poet’s unique viewpoint.

War stood/
at the end of the corridor Hakusen Watanabe (1913-1969)
Infinite night sky/
stars, roses, comrades
waiting for tomorrow Taiho Furusawa (1913-2000)
Here is a stump/
and an ox also
in its simple honesty Onifusa Sato (1919-2002)
A youth loves a buck/
on a slope in a storm Tohta Kaneko (1919-)
Near a tree
the mundane world:/
a crane’s breast moving Haruko Iijima (1921-2000)
The birth cry
between my thighs/
stretches into budding tree darkness Mikajo Yagi (1924-)
Feeling unloved/
I swim away
toward the open sea Shoshi Fujita (1926-)
Deep darkness
within me–/
firefly catching Biwao Kawahara (1930-)
Cherry blossoms are falling–/
you also must become
a hippopotamus Toshinori Tsubouchi (1944-)
Breaking my yellow crayon/
to draw
the barley harvest field Kei Hayashi (1953-)
Each haiku by Furusawa, Sato, and Tsubouchi consist of two short sentences in the original Japanese. Iijima used a cutting word “ya”, to signify the kire. Thus, the kire in these four haiku can be recognized grammatically. Yet, in the other haiku, the reader is expected to read carefully and thoroughly to discover the kire. Because of kire, appreciating haiku is highly intellectual work. Looking at it in another way, an excellent poet is someone who can skillfully fold the kire inside the haiku.
Ichiro Fukumoto (1943-), who specializes in haiku and literature, explains the difference between senryu and haiku, both of which are usually written in five-seven-five syllables. He denies the common belief that senryu doesn’t use season words whereas haiku does, and that senryu sets the theme on human beings whereas haiku focuses on nature. According to Fukumoto, such a simplistic interpretation became invalid ever since muki-haiku, seasonless poem, appeared. Fukumoto’s assertion is that the real difference is that senryu doesn’t have kire, whereas haiku does.

This essay from Japanese/English JAPANESE HAIKU 2001 (Modern Haiku Association, Tokyo, Japan, December 2000, ISBN 4-89709-336-8 C0092, 3,000 yen)

World Haiku 2006, No. 2 – A Review and Essay

■Book Review

World Haiku 2006, no. 2, Edited by Ban’ya Natsuishi, World Haiku Association, Shichigatsudo.
(For purchase of this anthology http://www.worldhaiku.net/news_files/wh2006/wh2006eng.htm)

Grant CALDWELL (Australia)

When Ban’ya Natsuishi asked me if I would write a review of World Haiku 2006 No. 2, I was already writing an article in response to his and Edvin Sugarev’s and Bin Akio’s essays in the anthology. And so this review will be an incorporation of that article and a review of the anthology as a whole.

Before I get to the body of the anthology, I must report on the impressive facts of it: 472 haiku by 158 poets from 27 countries in numerous languages apart from Japanese, almost all poems published in or translated into English; 11 haiga by 11 persons from 10 countries; 5 haiku criticisms or essays by five poets from “East and West”. The countries represented range from Nigeria to Bulgaria to Nepal to Ireland to Croatia to Sweden to Serbia and Montenegro, as well as Germany, Iceland, Denmark, Russia, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, as well as U.S.A., Macedonia, France, U.K., Portugal, Belgium, Slovenia, Romania, Greece, India and of course, Japan, with ages ranging from 81 to 29 (excluding the Junior Haiku Contest).

In the three essays, Bin Akio’s Kokkei and Humor, Edvin Sugarev’s The Bulgarian Haiku, and Ban’ya Natsuishi’s Have East and West Truly Met through Haiku? the authors’ views seem to contradict on some points but agree on others. I will attempt to address what I think are the key points of these articles, and hopefully bring them somewhat into alignment. The key points I refer to are: Akio’s reflections on the origins of haiku, Sugarev’s musings on “the Zen factor” and Natsuishi’s views on the poverty of understanding of haiku by modern haiku poets, especially the poor understanding in the west, and his ruminations on the problem of translation. I believe these areas go the heart of the problem of modern haiku, and perhaps even modern poetry.
Edvin Sugarev writes (p. 85) “…as to what haiku is I don’t believe in any definition and descriptions, nor in any prescriptions how to write haiku and what principles to be followed… because the energy and impact of haiku are intangible, slippery, and free from any rational explanations.” While I agree with a lot of what Sugarev says in his essay, this statement may explain Ban’ya Natsuishi’s criticism of much modern haiku as indeed being “slippery, and free from any rational explanations”. Natsuishi writes (p. 97) quite rightly that “…haiku cannot be free from any meaning”. I think the misconception of haiku has arisen as a result of a misunderstanding (and mistranslation) of both Zen and haiku. Most classical haiku are capable of rational analysis, and those that seem beyond explanation may be so because of poor translation, or a lack of true understanding of the essence of “seeing” that is haiku (and Zen or Daoism-Buddhism[1]). Just one example of an easily rationalised classic haiku, is the following by Issa:
insects on a branch
floating downriver
still singing
There are also many fine contemporary haiku capable of rational analysis, as evidenced in the World Haiku anthology. For example the haiku by Roberta Beary, on page 8
waiting room –
the ex-wife
looks past me
There are also many haiku in this anthology that seem to aspire to the “slippery” view of haiku. But as I have suggested this may be a fault of the translation or indeed may very much depend upon the insight of the reader. On page 28 A.A.Marcoff’s haiku seems at first glance to defy rational explanation, and yet it resonates, it captures something that may at first (or did so for me) seem to be intangible:
a blind man
passing a broken wall
at dusk
Upon closer reading we might begin to see that there are elements of sympathetic or sad irony (sabi?[2]) here, and three separate “stories”, three separate “levels”: the more individual or personal (the blind man), the general situation or setting (the broken wall), and the temporal and universal or “natural” (dusk). There are many symbolic spin-offs from these images, individually and collectively. But there is something else here, something attained by the combination of these levels, something mystical, timeless and uplifting about this apparently sad end of the day (dusk) for the blind man passing the broken wall (erosion/destruction/chaos/war) that he cannot see (but maybe he can feel it or sense it). Here is an instance of the rational explanation of the magic of the haiku, as well as the ineffable extra that the image creates, best articulated by the (perhaps over-quoted) principle of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. An interesting question might be: Was A.A. Marcoff aware of the multiplicity of meanings of the haiku when they wrote it or were they simply captivated by the image as it appeared to them? My guess would be that initially it was the image that captured them, but that they may have come to see why this was so. And so, there are two perspectives involved here: the “creative” one, which can be “blind” to the meaning of the broken wall at dusk; and the second, analytical perspective, that has time and objectivity to perceive the implications of the images. And yet, there are some readers of haiku for whom the “creative” perspective is enough, the feeling that is conveyed; but the rationale or “meaning” must still exist for this to happen.
Getting back to Sugarev and principles, perhaps the rule, if there is to be one, is that haiku is about “moments that matter”, moments that catch through symbol, metaphor or inference, more than one meaning or image, so that what at first appears to be a puzzling or overtly simple image or strange combination of images, upon closer observation opens out into multiple meanings and connections and ideas. But this and other “rules” or indications of the depth of “nature” are far better articulated (it is hardly surprising) by Basho himself. As the American poet Robert Hass says in his book The Essential Haiku (Versions of Basho, Buson and Issa), p. 294.: “Basho himself wrote no systematic treatise on poetics, and his ideas changed over time.” (Hass, p. 294), however, Hass has compiled a very useful list of remarks by Basho on poetry and poetics, drawn from various sources – Basho’s own prose and observations reported by his disciples – and various translators. Hass adds in the footnote to this list: “It’s not completely clear that he (Basho) said everything attributed to him”, but most of this list is illuminating and inspiring, and I unreservedly recommend it. Hass has entitled it Learn from the Pine, and it can be found on pages 233-238 of his book. The second “rule” in the list, that seems most appropriate here is: “Don’t follow in the footsteps of the old poets, seek what they sought.” The rest is about “what they sought”.
Edvin Sugarev quotes the first of Basho’s aphorisms (perhaps the most quoted) from Learn from the Pine in his explanation of the connection with Zen: “Haiku is not being written or created – it just is: like a flower hidden in the grass… You cannot write haiku from the viewpoint of a subject who observes his object – you have to reach beyond yourself, to leave the past and present, to be here and now, to be one. In that sense haiku is an art of meditation and in this is its deep (though often denied) connection with Zen. Basho’s words: When you depict a pine tree you have to become the pine tree … the principle of non-duality, of Self dissolving in the Universe, which is the basics of the philosophy of Zen.” (Sugarev, p.86). This is the key point in Sugarev’s article for me, this is the “selflessness” (alone-ness/all one-ness?) that Blyth perhaps misconstrued and that Natsuishi criticises on page 94. Sugarev goes on to bemoan western poetry’s “sense of burden and limitation” of “wasted language”. Indeed I see this frustration and limitation reflected in the poverty of Western Philosophy (indeed, in its prevalent culture of materialism). Perhaps this “burden” is why so many poets worldwide are attracted to haiku. For it is not haiku as such that is the essence of haiku, but the “existential code” of Zen (Sugarev, p. 86) that is at its base. In order to truly understand haiku we need to understand what is Zen, or Daoism/Buddhism, the existential code, are; or more accurately, we need to understand what “nature” is, in its broadest sense. Natsuishi rightly points out in his essay that so many poor translations of Eastern Philosophy (and haiku), as well as poor interpretations of these translations (and even, I would say, of the original Japanese and Chinese texts), have obscured this understanding as much as illuminated it. There is a very basic distinction to be made here between the western ethos of containing and controlling and manipulating nature, and the once eastern (and many other older cultures) ethos of cooperating with, working with, flowing with nature. This is perhaps why initially haiku (or renga before it) required a kigo, or seasonal reference, that is, a reference to nature. But of course “nature’ is not just the natural world, we humans, even we urban humans, are part of nature, no matter how much we have bastardised it, no matter how far we have “progressed” in eliminating it. The famous American abstract expressionist painter Jackson Pollock once declared: “I don’t paint nature, I am nature”.
Without meaning to pretend I am a scholar of Daoism, I can say that I have studied many and various translated texts of Lao Tze and Chuang Tze for many years, and, at the risk of being yet another westerner attempting to explain eastern thought through his reading of translated texts, but because I feel the idea of Daoism (or for that matter Buddhism or haiku) is not exclusive to Daoism or any one culture, but is the “seeing” of the way of the world, I will make an attempt to discuss briefly what I think it is, and in doing so, hopefully approach what I feel haiku is generally about. But perhaps before I do so I should, as further “disclaimers”, quote two passages from the Dao Te Ching: firstly, the opening lines from chapter 56:
Those who know
do not speak;
those who speak
do not know.
And secondly, the opening lines from chapter One:
The way that can be spoken of
is not the constant way;
the way that can be named
is not the constant name.
The nameless was the origin of heaven and earth;
the named was the mother of the ten thousand things[3] As I have already suggested, Zen, or Zen Buddhism, was essentially created out of the nexus of Daoism (or Taoism) and Buddhism, and it is for me the Daoist principles that can be most clearly perceived in the essence of haiku. “Basho seems to have been attracted to Chinese poetry for two main reasons. One was his interest in Taoism, which he thought might lead him away from the turmoil of everyday life and into the world of nature where he could regain his true self. He became an avid reader of Chuang Tzu[4]… The other element of Chinese poetry that appealed to Basho was Zen Buddhism.” (Ueda, p. 67). The West is hung-up or “burdened” by the need to define ONE approach, vacillating between the subjectivism of the Romantics and the objectivism of the Formalists, on and on, with the only thing changing being the names attributed to the various schools of theory and pragmatics, intellect and emotion. This, I feel, is a result of the apparent need to justify everything in scientific terms, to explain everything in isolation, to DEFINE FOR CERTAIN AND FOREVER, when we, especially as artists, know that this is not possible, which is why we are artists in the first place. Meanwhile the poets continue to experiment and evolve “unscientifically” i.e. creatively. The Dao (The Way), or Zen, recognises the “complimentary opposites” of everything, or for our purposes, the absorption of the subjective AND the objective, expressed so beautifully by Basho in his commentaries. The wisdom of the Dao came from the “elders” who learned by observing nature, long before Lao Tze and Chuang Tze began writing their interpretations and understandings of the “code”.
Bin Akio alludes to the Chinese connection in haiku: “Until the 14th century, there were only two ways to make poetry in Japan. One was to make a Chinese poem. Another was to make a Japanese poem called a waka… But haikai, which was born from waka in the medieval times, used both Chinese poetic vocabulary and vocabulary from everyday life… It (the introduction of haiku) was the start of a tide which tried to catch the truth by free expression which deviated from the external orthodox.” (Akio, p. 79)
The three main points of Ban’ya Natsuishi’s article are: a) the learning of Japanese by western haiku poets b) the confusing of Zen Buddhism and haiku, and c) the problem of translation. I think I have said enough about b), and because a) and c) are closely related I will attempt to address them together.
I agree up to a point with Natsuishi that westerners should learn Japanese if they wish to truly understand Japanese haiku. And I am full of admiration and guiltiness when I meet people like Ban’ya who have made the effort to learn my language, when I have not made a reciprocal effort. My only defence is that I was born into the dominant language of the world (if we can put the most spoken language, Chinese, to one side for a moment), and until the last five to ten years I have never had to learn another language the way so many other cultures are expected to learn English. This, I agree is a chauvinist position, but one of pragmatics too: if I were to learn Japanese, I should equally learn Australian Aboriginal (of which there are numerous separate, extant languages), Gaelic, Chinese, Spanish, German, Indonesian, Portuguese, and Russian, etcetera. And I am more than occupied with my work on poetry, haiku, novels, research, teaching, and I am continuing to learn about the English language. Perhaps when one or more of these things abates I might be able to think about learning Chinese or Japanese. Having said this, however, I feel that the problem is not with the language, but with i) the understanding of the essence of haiku (even, perhaps the essence of poetry – I don’t think Blyth or Suzuki or Barthes were/are poets), and ii) the translation of these haiku (and poetry in general). That the learning of the language is not the whole solution is evidenced by Blyth himself: he immersed himself in Japanese culture from the age of 28, learning the language, studying Zen under various masters, marrying a Japanese woman at the age of 39, teaching English in a Japanese High School, and continuing to live and study and translate and teach in Japan until his death aged 66. And yet, it appears from his attempted translation of the Basho poem quoted by Natsuishi, and some of his other translations, that his grasp of haiku and indeed of Zen was tenuous. It is difficult to understand why this should be, unless it is the “poetic ear” that is lacking, as well as a failure to truly come to terms with the essence of Zen, or Daoism. Unlike Natsuishi, I find D.T.Suzuki’s essays on Buddhism to be quite convincing and articulate, if a little complex. I also believe that the “animistic” element that Natsuishi cites as “missing” from Suzuki’s reckoning is part of the Daoist tradition and perhaps brings haiku closer to the true origin of Zen than Buddhism does. But of course all of this is a matter of interpretation of isms and codes and principles, which are anathema to what haiku and poetry are. I am reminded of the other great Daoist “parent”, Chuang Tze, who declared: “The Sages embrace all things, while men in general argue about them in order to convince each other…” It is interesting to note that Robert Hass has a long explanation of the same “dense fog” haiku that Natsuishi examines. Hass’s translation is:
Misty rain,
can’t see Fuji
which I feel also fails to “catch” the poem, although it is an improvement on Blyth’s. In the notes at the back of the book Hass goes into a long examination of the language in this haiku, at the end of which he says: “It seems likely that this aesthetic stylization (in the Japanese language) bears the traces of earlier animism, when harusame and kirishigure and yudachi were thought of as nature spirits, particular beings.” (Hass, p. 255). Makoto Ueda has also translated the poem, and included the headnote from Basho’s original. He also quotes commentary from three earlier poet/scholars from the 18th and 19th centuries, which help “explain” the poem. One of these scholars Tokai Donto quotes the 14th century scholar, Yoshida Kenko: “One is not to admire cherry blossoms only when they are in bloom, or the moon only when it is uncovered by clouds.” (Ueda, p.102). Ueda’s translation of the haiku is:
in the misty rain
Mount Fuji is veiled all day –
how intriguing!
But this too I find less than satisfying. I recommend the complete discussion of this poem by Ueda for further exploration of its true implications.
In 1996 I travelled to Medellin, Colombia for the International Poetry Festival there. I had lived in Spain and Morocco in the 70s for a short time and learnt a little Spanish, and so was able on a very rudimentary level to understand and even communicate in Spanish when I arrived, but much of the time I experienced that sense of being “deaf and dumb” whilst in a country whose language one doesn’t speak or understand. I was fortunate however that an English woman, Claire Pye, agreed to translate my poems into Spanish, and from the reactions of the locals and the comments of other bi-lingual locals and attendees, these translations must have been very good; they may have even improved on the poems! A friend and colleague of mine who I will not name had an opposite experience when a local Spanish speaker, who spoke reasonable English, translated this poet’s work from English into Spanish. My friend told me that it was apparent from the reactions and comments from Spanish speakers that the translations were far from adequate. From these experiences and other reading on the matter I have concluded some important basic principles of translation: a) that the person who is doing the translation should have a poetic “ear”, b) that this person should be a native speaker of the language that is being translated, but that they should speak the language into which it being translated at least well, if not fluently (Claire Pye spoke Spanish fluently, she taught English in a local school) c) that the translator has at least one native speaker of the “second” language to consult (Claire Pye had of course many locals to draw upon for advice about the Spanish she was using). And so, for example, to translate Basho’s haiku into German, ideally would require a native Japanese speaker with good if not fluent German, with a poetic ear, and with access to German native speakers for consultation. If this were the case, perhaps the Mt. Fuji haiku might be translated “perfectly”.
I found many fine haiku in the World Haiku Anthology No. 2, that capture what Basho, Buson and Issa and others have captured, and many have since continued to create in the essence of their poetry, in its developing, evolving form, almost always suggesting the ineffable, concise expression of existence and its connections and wonder. These haiku stimulated and inspired me, and they make the collection well worth reading, even apart from the fine essays and haiga. There are also many haiku that I found difficult to “understand” or simply too obvious in their implications. As I have suggested, perhaps the problem with many of these poems lies with their translation; or indeed, my failure to understand their cultural references and nuances. The latter is always going to be a problem in translation, but like in all literatures it will not deny the survival of the best poems, especially if enough people read them and comment upon them. I would like to quote those haiku that especially resonated with me.
Roberta Beary (p. 8). I found all of three poems interesting and evocative. All have a rare domestic nature to them, full of humorous suggestion.
waiting room-
the ex-wife
looks past me
I especially like this second haiku, with its strong suggestion of human “nature”: jealousy, embarrassment, pride (?). And why are they in the “waiting room”? Is it a doctor’s? Are they both pregnant? or ill? The implications are many and intriguing, but we don’t have to know the whole story, what is interesting is the moment of exchange (or non-exchange) and its implications.
I enjoyed Johnette Downing’s three poems (p. 14), but especially:
a heart
carved in a tree
has a crack in it
The poem is obvious in its implications but the “opportunity” of irony that the poet has recognised in a natural form is delicious – the third line “leaps” into a narrative of humorous cynicism for the poet, and us.
Gilles Fabre – All three poems are good, especially the second:
This friend,
I thought I knew, in his car boot:
a hunting gun
Again, the “leap” of the third line, suggesting so starkly the disillusion, contrasting with the establishment of “This friend” of the first line, and the question: what is “in his car boot”? The implication that the friend carries the gun around in his (or her!) boot, is not only creepy but reinforces the secretiveness, his (or her) hidden nature that the poet has discovered.
I enjoyed Kaj Falkman’s poems on p. 15, especially the first one – the other two are good ideas but I feel are not quite realised.
Alexandra Ivoylova, p. 21 –
the dog’s bark outside
smells of snow
Here we have a definite kigo and the “smell” we know is not the dog’s bark – it probably sounds like it’s coming from the freshly fallen perhaps first snow but at the same time the poet can smell the snow – and so, we too, smell it and hear the dog’s “snowy” bark – we are “there” in the situation, feeling it. Perhaps the fact that I am in 35 degrees summer in Melbourne as I read it makes this resonate even more so!
Ekaterina Kunova’s three haiku (p. 27) are very good, particularly:
Sunset –
my grandma’s
cherry jam
The sunset of the life of grandma, the colour of her cherry jam we see in the sunset with her, the sabi suggested by such a reflection, the fondness and domestic warmth and family feeling between the two women is very strong – we can almost taste the jam.
Rumyana Lyakova, p. 27-
The snow quiet
In a deer’s footprints –
Here the quiet of the snow, that insulated sense of snow, the sabi of being alone in the snow (the silence), and the suggestion that the poet is standing still, all seen in a deer’s footprints, the sense of wonder created by the presence of a wild animal, the sense of being still and quiet so as not to disturb it, reinforced by the third line, the silence and stillness and freshness of dawn – all of this we feel in the poet, all of this is the poet at this moment: the quiet, the snow, the deer, the sunrise.
The following poems of Nikola Madzirov (p. 28), Timjana Mahecic (p. 28), Dusko Matas (p. 29) respectively, I would just like to quote, and allow you to reflect on their resonance –
Morning frost.
Upon the car somebody
has drawn a sun

Boys run after a ball
on the grass –
an old man smiling

Misty window pane
I hear them on the gutter –
the raindrops
Ivan Nadilo’s poem, (p. 33)-
At the cemetery
I’m mirrored in the shine
of black marble
I feel would be more effective as
At the cemetery
my reflection
in the black marble
Not just for the succinctness and exactness of the language, but the double meaning (noun and verb) of the word “reflection”, and its poignancy, rather than “mirrored”.
In Boris Nazansky’s fine poem (p.35):
following the snail’s tracks
the stars are climbing the fence
I feel, perhaps pedantically, that there are more words than is necessary, and suggest:
following snail tracks
stars climb the fence
Djudja Vukelic-Rozic’s haiku on p. 53 is a favorite of mine in the anthology,
dolls and a teddy bear
on the sidewalk waiting
for the garbage truck
The poignancy of the dolls’ and the teddy bear’s imagined sentience is most evident and sad and yet it makes us smile through our tears – here we have sabi connecting the poet and the dolls and the teddy bear, especially the latter, as the dolls are not numbered i.e. it is the bear that takes our full attention; but we then wonder: why are they being abandoned like this? Are they indeed a reflection of what has happened to their owner? And/or are they symbolic of the loss of innocence and imaginative affection in the modern world, where everything is disposable? But also, we have here the evidence of the transience or impermanence of existence, even for teddy bears (childhood?)!
Sueo Yoshida’s third poem (p. 56) is equally (and similarly) evocative:
On the sand
the ant-lion staring
at the universe
Of the junior haiku award winners, the winning, first haiku of Arisa Sakino has the strong quality of connection of reality and symbolism. For age eleven this is a very mature quality.
There are many haiku that I enjoyed that I have not quoted. I have greatly enjoyed reading this anthology and writing the review of the poems and the essays. I have learned a great deal in the challenge of doing so. I hope the readers likewise enjoy, or at least find some stimulation, in my words. It is worth repeating that it is very possible (and I sometimes sensed this in reading many of the haiku) that the translation of some of the poems in the anthology does not do them justice in English, and I apologise again for my limitation of language in this regard.

23/2/06, Melbourne, Australia

Robert Hass, The Essential Haiku (Versions of Basho, Buson and Issa), the Ecco Press, New Jersey, U.S.A., 1994.
Makoto Ueda, Basho and His Interpreters, Stanford University Press, California, U.S.A., 1991.
World Haiku 2006 No. 2, Editor: Ban’ya Natsuishi, World Haiku Association, Shichigatsudo, Saitama, Japan, 2006.

[1] It is arguable that Zen came about as a result of the combination of Daoism and Buddhism (and to a lesser extent, Confucianism) as Buddhism moved into and was absorbed by Japanese culture as Zen, from around the 12th Century.
[2] Basho mentions sabi (loneliness) as one of the key elements in haikai: “sabi is the colour of the poem”. From an English speaking perspective this is an interesting word i.e. “loneliness” – an interesting connection might be made with the principles of “alone-ness” or “detachment” of Buddhism and Daoism; and the fact that in English the word “alone” comes from the phrase “all one”.
[3] These versions are my own “translations” based upon the many translated versions I have read and studied.
[4] Note that there are various spellings of Daoism, Lao Tze and Chuang Tze, they being Anglicised versions of the Chinese.


Adam Donaldson Powell (Norway & USA)

An essay based upon the following multilingual haiku books by Ban’ya Natsuishi:

MADARAK / BIRDS, 50 HAIKU, including aquarelles by Éva Pápai, translations by

Ban’ya Natsuishi, Jack Galmitz and Judit Vihar, published in 2007, Balassi Kiadó,

Budapest, Hungary, ISBN 978-963-506-743-5; and VOICES FROM THE CLOUDS,

translations by Leons Briedis, Ban’ya Natsuishi, Jim Kacian and James Shea,

published in 2008, Minerva, Latvia, ISBN 978-9984-637-42-5.

World haiku books are generally characterized by bilingualism or multilingualism, i.e. haiku books published with translations or adaptations in one or more languages in addition to the mother tongue of the haiku writer. This is also true of the world haiku books of Ban’ya Natsuishi. Mr. Natuishi’s literary adeptness is well-established – both by fans and reviewers such as myself, and by the international and Japanese literary community at large. What I would like to address in this essay is presentation — the function of haiku with translations / adaptations in the same book, and the function of haiku together with and in competition with art / photography. In other words: the aesthetic dimensions and considerations.

I have previously commented upon the now-popular combination of haiku with photography:”I have written elsewhere that I prefer photography books without captions and titles … this is often a sensitive and over-debated question. However, I do not believe that it is solely a question of aesthetics or subjective ‘likes and dislikes’ / personal preferences. There are also the questions of functionality, total artistic impression as well as technical questions such as ‘when is more actually too much?’ Are the haiku captions or poetry? Do they serve a complementary function or an interpretative function, and are they (in fact) essential to understanding the photographs? Is the placement of these haiku optimal, or would another approach to combining photography and haiku have a stronger effect? These are all questions that strike me in my own personal experience …” It is important to me as reader and reviewer that presentation of haiku in book form satisfies the underlying aesthetic values of simplicity, space for thought and reflection, and maximal visual interpretation by the reader himself / herself. Furthermore, it is important to me that the haiku and the artwork function both on their own as artistic expressions AND together as complements, but not as explanations or rationalizations of each other. They should not be in competition with one another, and not too interpretative of each other.

This applies as well to presentation of haiku translations and adaptations alongside one another. The number and placement of haiku in translation / adaptation must not create a sense of constriction in regards to space, or be too overwhelming in terms of text. There are many possible solutions to these challenges, including: separating haiku and photography / art into different sections in the book, limiting the number of translations / adaptations, utilizing artistic imagery that is less concrete (eg. abstract imagery, painted calligraphy which gives a simple visual presentation, etc.) or watercolors or another medium that mimics the lightness of haiku to name a few possibilities. Of course, another possibility entails combining haiku with imagery that does not attempt to comment directly upon the visual imagery created by the haiku artist but rather explores the underlying “feelings” in other visual expressions. These suggested solutions might allow the reader / viewer to experience the visual, intellectual and emotional openness of both artistic forms of expression — both independently, and in “indirect” comparison, without the one form competing with, overshadowing or directly leading / affecting the experiential and interpretative process of the reader / viewer.

The Hungarian book MADARAK / BIRDS, 50 HAIKU is a very attractive hardbound book (12 x 18,5 cm), with fine illustrations by visual artist Éva Pápai. The illustrations are aquarelles, sensitively executed and without too much direct interpretation of the contexts expressed in the accompanying haiku. The illustrations are consistently placed on the pages adjoining each haiku in English and in Hungarian, and the original Japanese haiku appear under each illustration. Although this attractive book is not of a standard coffee table book size, the excellent presentation enables it to function both as a work of art and as a small inspirational book that may be carried in a bag or in one’s pocket so as to be read on the bus, the metro, the train … or during a break at work or in between appointments. One reason that the presentation achieved in this book is so successful is that the illustrations are more than mere illustrations — they are works of art which function both independently and together with the haiku, they are simple in execution and style — thus mimicking and accentuating the lightness and spontaneity and “space” of haiku as an art form, there are only two haiku translations / adaptations to the page — giving a feeling of time and space for personal reflection in a way that the language that is unimportant to the particular reader can (in fact) disappear on the page, and also because the Japanese original haiku are tastefully reproduced with calligraphy in red — thus giving a sense of writing as visual art, as well as writing and art balanced both on the illustration pages and also together with the haiku in English and in Hungarian (on the opposing pages).

In “Voices from the Clouds” (11 x 19 cm, softcover), there are no illustrations or works of art accompanying each haiku. There are however haiku in original Japanese, Latvian and English on each page. In my view, this small book works quite well in terms of presentation. This largely because of the excellent paper quality, the sequence and placement of haiku on each page (starting with the original haiku in Japanese in one line across the top of each page, followed by the Latvian translation / adaptation, and then with the English version on the bottom of each page), as well as the feeling of “airyness” and space created … all of which give the book a sense of completion.

There are many memorable haiku in these two books which are both beautiful and thought-provoking. I will mention a few from each book:


Old women, pigeons,

winds and gossip

gather in this square.

– page 16

A wild eagle

is invited to

the room of mirrors

– page 24

Every thing will disappear:

even the rice paddy,

over it a white heron dancing

– page 54

To the goldcrest

every water drop


– page 106


In Tokyo

The angry flower is

A snow crystal

– page 23

Long, long ago

A fountain

At the bottom of the sea.

– page 39

Walking is philosophy’s

Best friend —

Voices from the clouds.

– page 80

Wisteria flowers

Suck in our

Sweet nothings.

– page 120

If I were to point out one thing that I would criticize with either of these books, it would be the consistent starting of each line with capital letters in the book VOICES FROM THE CLOUDS. Sometimes initial capital letters feel natural and at other times (as in these haiku) they can (in my opinion) tend to disrupt the flow and music of short literary works where lines are supposed to both function on their own and as a continuous flow. However, this is my own personal opinion and experience.

All in all, I would recommend lovers of world haiku to purchase these books, as they are quite worthy of inclusion in one’s permanent collection … for re-reading time and time again, at one’s leisure.

In Oslo, 17 February 2009.

Madarak / Birds / 鳥: 50 Haiku (Balassi Kiadó, Hungary, 2007)

Balsis no mākoņiem / VOICES FROM THE CLOUDS /雲から声 (Minerva, Latvia, 2008)

Hybrid Paradise – Gold Coins Dug up from Mud

■Book Review

Andreas PREISS Germany

Hybrid Paradise ハイブリッド天国 (ISBN 978-81-8253-175-8) is the third major poetry collection by noted Japanese haiku author NATSUISHI Ban’ya 夏石 番矢 that has been printed by the Indian publishing house Cyberwit.net (http://cyberwit.net/). Following the 2007 and 2008 releases Endless Helix 無限の螺旋 (ISBN 978-81-8253-072-0) and Flying Pope 空飛ぶ法王 (ISBN 978-81-8253-106-2) it boasts 134 pages, eleven chapters, and a staggering total of precisely 240 haiku.

Hybrid Paradise is by no means a work of mere quantity though, as is already indicated by the individuals involved. The cover design has been provided by the Japanese poet and haiga artist Shimizu Kuniharu 清水 国治; it fittingly emits a strangely familiar vibe, just as as many of the book’s poems. The American haijin Jim KACIAN, who many will recognize as the founder of Red Moon Press, has had his hands in the English translations provided to complement the original Japanese haiku. Finally, NATSUISHI Ban’ya, the author himself, is a professor at Meiji University 明治大学, co-founder and director of the World Haiku Association 世界俳句協会, as well as the president of Ginyu Press 吟遊社.

Hybrid Paradise does not rely on any fixed meter, on references to the seasons, or the somewhat archaic language that is classically associated with haiku. Thus, the boundaries of the genre are pushed to create modern, international, sometimes very intimate, often grand poetry that is demanding in the way masterful art often is.


A horse of Genghis Khan
a haiku

In his own way true to tradition, NATSUISHI Ban’ya employes but a few words in this example (p. 42) to describe not only a scene from his life as an artist but also to open his personal experience up to more universal interpretations. While possibly cryptic at first glance, the poem soon tells of a poetry reading that was also attended by someone who could play the morin khuur, the Mongolian “horse head fiddle”. Genghis Khan then does not only serve as a source of grandeur and as a signifier of internationalism but can also be read in an even broader context, as code for political and military power for example, which might be seen as standing in contrast to haiku as a representative of the fine arts. Any possible interpretation in this vein again begs the question why it really only is a horse of the great Mongol leader rather than the Khan himself which “follows a haiku”. The potential for reflections seems almost limitless.

To use his own words, the haiku collected in Hybrid Paradise are like gold coins that NATSUISHI Ban’ya has dug up with his poetic senses from the mud of the physical world and versified to be read and to be heard by anybody who so chooses to do (p. 72).


Any haiku like
a gold coin
dug up from mud?

Natsuishi, Ban’ya. 2009. Hybrid Paradise: ハイブリッド天国. Allahabad: Cyberwit.net. (ISBN 978-81-8253-175-8)