. . . 7th Sailing . . .
By Peter Yovu
What Is Your Response to Gendai Haiku?
This “Sailing” will take many of us (I include myself) out of our comfort zone and into exotic waters. The word gendai itself may be enough to send ripples through our haiku foundations, but it simply means “modern.” Just as 20th century Western poetry went through numerous trials and transformations, so did 20th century Japanese haiku. These changes, in each case, were both a response to the old (not necessarily a rejection of it) and a willingness to meet the provocations of a challenging new era, which many felt demanded a new poetry, a revitalized haiku.
In his review of The Haiku Universe for the 21st Century [“Reboot”] (MH 40.3), Scott Metz quotes Masaoka Shiki: “Haiku advances . . . only when it departs from the traditional style.” I am not scholar enough to surmise how far Shiki would have been willing to take this departure, but I will guess that he would have been surprised, at the least, to discover the directions that his disciples and those who followed would take. Certainly a departure from realism, as various movements embraced subjectivity, politics, surrealism, feminism, disjunction and other literary techniques rarely encountered before. Some schools promoted the writing of haiku without kigo, a movement many writers in the West have also explored.
Here are some examples. The first will be familiar to readers of Troutswirl:
bank clerks are fluorescent
from the morning
—Kaneko Tōta (trans. Makoto Ueda)
the skeleton of a huge fish
is drawn out to sea
—Saito Sanki (trans. by Gendai Haiku Kyokai)
in front of the scarlet mushroom
my comb slips off
(trans. by Richard Gilbert)
from the sight
of the man who was killed
we also vanished
—Murio Suzuki (trans. by Gendai Haiku Kyokai)
Illness in one eye:
like a goldfish
(trans. by Ban’ya Natsuishi & Jack Galmitz)
The Gendai Haiku Kyokai (Modern Haiku Association) was founded in 1947. By 1961, I learn from Scott’s review, it was open to “all kinds of haiku styles, including the traditional style . . . nonseasonal haiku and free form.” This, to a greater or lesser extent, is a policy followed by several of our better known publications, not excluding Modern Haiku and Frogpond, but especially Roadrunner and, now, with its haiku section edited by Richard Gilbert, Simply Haiku. Both champion the exploration of new directions in haiku, not necessarily centered on gendai, but certainly encouraged by it.
So, what is your response to this new presence in our lives?
You may recall that Christopher White posted a question (the question, in fact, that prompted me to launch this Sailing) which I will alter slightly to suit our purposes here: “A question I have is whether people feel that gendai haiku contain the standard Japanese aesthetic values or not. I ask this not in order to lay judgment on it—quite the opposite in fact: I’m interested in seeing what it has to say about haiku.”
As always, a number of questions arise from within these central questions. How useful is a study of, or at least exposure to, gendai haiku for you? In what ways? Do you seek new directions for your writing and reading? Is it important to continue looking to Japan for inspiration and education? (I hope to broaden this question of influence in a future Sailing).
It is a concern that some readers, believing they have not had enough exposure to modern Japanese haiku, will feel left out of this discussion. For those to whom it is new, (I include myself), I hope this Sailing will serve as an entry point, and offer directions for further exploration. For this reason, I am especially hopeful that readers who have more familiarity will present examples of work which they feel is significant, educational, or intriguing.
Three excellent sources of information, with many examples of gendai, can be found here:
Sails is a section of troutswirl that is devoted to presenting questions for discussion and debate on the nature and possibilities of haiku. Sails is overseen by Peter Yovu. For an introduction to this section, see Sails.