In the month of February, Per Diem:Daily Haiku will feature haiku in the languages of the Iberian Peninsula. The collection, arranged and translated into English by Danny Blackwell, features haiku in Spanish and Portuguese as well as Basque, Catalan, and Galician. Most of the poems originate from Spain and Portugal, but because Spanish and Portuguese are spoken beyond these borders, poems and poets from Latin America also feature. It’s a fascinating collection, with some of the poems dating back almost 100 years.
Haiku in the Languages of Iberia
– Danny Blackwell
In 2018, I was fortunate enough to be given funding by the Consortium of Museums for the region of Valencia, Spain, for a project I called Haiku from Iberia and Beyond. The project was an investigation into haiku written in the languages of the Iberian Peninsula, and which culminated in the publishing of an anthology of poems, with extensive notes on the unique tendencies of haiku in the languages and areas studied.
The Iberian Peninsula is composed of Spain and Portugal, with the most widely spoken languages Spanish and Portuguese. Spain, of course, has other officially recognized languages, namely Basque, Catalan, and Galician. The languages of the Iberian peninsula, however, are not limited to the peninsula itself. Spanish and Portguese are also the main languages of Latin America, as well as being spoken in parts of Africa. The history of these languages and the regions where they are spoken is complex and I invite anyone interested to study further. (Of note is the debate about Catalan and Valencian, the language spoken in Valencia.)
I was interested to see how the history of haiku had developed in these differing regions and languages. While there are many poets who are greatly inspired by the Japanese classics, local haiku has left its mark on Spanish and Portuguese poetry and there are notable poets, such as Tablada in Mexico, who had a profound influence of the production of haiku in their native tongue. And Brazil, too, is a unique country in terms of the history of haiku because of the Japanese immigration there, as well as the long history of haiku being written both in Portuguese and in Japanese.
One of my objectives with Haiku from Iberia and Beyond, and by extension with this month’s Per Diem of Haiku in the Languages of Iberia, is to see previously marginalized languages and poets get exposure so that we can re-evaluate the current canon; and to show that there is a willingness to broaden the horizons of haiku so that, in future, speakers of languages such as Basque, Catalan, and Galician need not compose in Spanish if they are to be read.
One Basque poet claimed in an unpublished essay on haiku in Basque that to write in Basque is to make oneself invisible. Hopefully, those days are gone.
*The translation of the poems from Catalan, Galician, Portuguese, and Spanish into English is by Danny Blackwell. (The Basque poems, however, were first translated by the poets into Spanish before being translated by Danny Blackwell into English.)