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Reading of The Essential Haiku

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message 1: by Harley (last edited Sep 03, 2010 04:33PM) (new)

Harley | 42 comments This discussion topic is around the reading of the book, The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson and Issa, edited by Robert Haas. I would recommend reading the introduction first. Please join us by sharing your thoughts, ideas and insights.


message 2: by Harley (new)

Harley | 42 comments Haas gives the classic description of the 3 poets in the opening paragraph of the introduction:

Basho — the ascetic and seeker
Buson — the artist
Issa — the humanist

And he illustrates each style with a haiku. Do you think he is right?


message 3: by Harley (last edited Sep 03, 2010 04:46PM) (new)

Harley | 42 comments Basho's haiku:

Deep autumn —
my neighbor,
how does he live, I wonder

This is one of my favorite Basho poems. I love the self-reflective nature of autumn. How well do you know your neighbors? I have lived on the same street for over 20 years and only know the names of the people on either side of me. Yet we only meet occasionally to chat. We never eat together or share family joy. So like Basho, I wonder how they live. I read somewhere that people today may be closer to people who live a thousand miles away then they are to the people next door. The internet connects across the miles, but we don't connect with those close by. What do you think? Are you close to your neighbors.

This haiku brings to mind the poem of Robert Frost's about fences make good neighbors.


message 4: by Harley (new)

Harley | 42 comments Buson's haiku:

Tethered horse;
snow
in both stirrups

Can't you picture this winter scene? You can almost see the painting in your mind's eye. But where does the painter's eye focus? On the stirrups filled with snow. The rider is gone. Maybe at the inn having a drink? The horse waits patiently for his master to return so they can go home. On another level has the horse been abandoned? A good master would have taken the saddle off. Rubbed the horse down and fed him. Instead he has been left standing in the winter snow.

How often do we abandon our responsibilities? Do we fail to do the things we are supposed to do? What has begun as a simple painting now takes us deep within ourselves and questions our discipline.

The other thing I noticed about these translations is the use of periods — something that I have rarely seen in haiku. The translator seems to want to westernize the form.


message 5: by Harley (new)

Harley | 42 comments Issa's Haiku:

Don't worry, spiders,
I keep house
casually.

I think you can see how different these poets are. Issa is very down to earth and concerned about even the smallest of creatures. He is not overly structured or caught up in the human world around him. He wants even the spiders to feel at home. He is not going to sweep up the cobwebs and chase them out. He is willing to live and let live.


message 6: by Barbara Fay (new)

Barbara Fay (barbarafay) | 4 comments Harley wrote: "Basho's haiku:

Deep autumn —
my neighbor,
how does he live, I wonder

This is one of my favorite Basho poems. I love the self-reflective nature of autumn. How well do you know yo..."


Sorry Harley - I too have been reading the Essential Haiku and was waiting for the discussion to get started! I don' know how I missed notification of your new posts. I'll respond to a couple of them now. Thinking of Basho, I'm not sure he wonders about the physical, daily task aspects of his neighbor, I think he is reflecting more philosophically or psychologically -- one has time to think about these things in autumn -- what makes his neighbor tick? How does his neighbor handle crisis? That kind of thing. I do happen to know my neighbors. I live in a little cul de sac a ways out of town, kind of in a woods, with 3 other homes nearby. My neighbors are terrific - we help each other with dog sitting, snow plowing, house watching, etc. Recently I hired a person to help with some household tasks. Soon, a neighbor called to see if everything was OK at my house because they had seen this person ride up on their bike and walk around the outside of the house. I thanked him for calling and said everything was OK.

My grandmother made KILLER cinnamon buns, we have a family story: when her son (my uncle) and his wife moved to a new town, on Grandma's first visit, she made several pans of cinnamon buns and went around to all the neighbors, sharing cinnamon buns and mentioning that she was the mother/mother in law of the new folks and wanted to get to know the neighbors!

Without reference to any haiku rules, here is a little "neighbor" verse for you:

snowbirds flock South
I crunch through snow
to feed cardinals


message 7: by Barbara Fay (new)

Barbara Fay (barbarafay) | 4 comments Harley wrote: "Issa's Haiku:

Don't worry, spiders,
I keep house
casually.

I think you can see how different these poets are. Issa is very down to earth and concerned about even the smallest of creatu..."


Now this one tells me that Issa had a sense of humor! I love this one -- I'm one of those casual housekeepers.

Here's your goofy little verse for this post:

Good housekeeping
Pots: somewhere in the kitchen
close enough!


message 8: by Barbara Fay (new)

Barbara Fay (barbarafay) | 4 comments Harley wrote: "Buson's haiku:

Tethered horse;
snow
in both stirrups

Can't you picture this winter scene? You can almost see the painting in your mind's eye. But where does the painter's eye foc..."


The artist's eye often focuses on juxtapositions, textural contrasts, color combinations. The stillnes of this scene strikes me. I see a landscape blanketed in snow, a chestnut brown horse- nostrils sending plumes into the cold, and that quiet snow in the stirrups. It's not necessarily logical (where is the rider?) because one would imagine that if there is snow in the stirrups, wouldn't there be snow on the horse's back and in his mane, too? But it is so beautifully evocative of mood, environment/atmosphere, and visual pleasure. It's the quiet little details (the stirrups) that evoke the larger reality. That's me as a visual artist talking. Your interpretation made me think -- and I appreciated that, but it sort of brought me out of the enjoyment of the poem itself with a thud! I'll try to be more responsible, OK?


message 9: by Harley (new)

Harley | 42 comments Thanks for joining me, Barbara. I hope others do to. This is a small group and we need everyone to join in the discussion. I don't know why you didn't receive notification. I posted the winner on the poll. It was a tie so I changed my vote to give this book the advantage. If this works, we can read another one later.

I do not believe there is any right or wrong way to interpret the haiku. I think we all bring insight and should share that insight. Reading haiku is as much an art as writing it.


message 10: by Harley (new)

Harley | 42 comments Barbara wrote: "My grandmother made KILLER cinnamon buns."

So did my grandmother. I love your story about neighbors. When my wife and I were first married, we lived in a duplex next to my grandmother. She brought over cinnamon buns for us. My wife, who is of Mexican American descent, had no idea what they were. She had never had one.


message 11: by Harley (new)

Harley | 42 comments Barbara, thanks for sharing your haiku. I love the lines:

Pots: somewhere in the kitchen
close enough!



message 12: by Harley (new)

Harley | 42 comments This road—
no one goes down it,
autumn evening.

p.11

In Basho's day, people traveled by walking and by horse. I can imagine Basho standing on a road as evening comes. And he sees no one. The road is deserted. Either he is far from any village or everyone is at home having their evening meal. Where will he sleep tonight? Is there an inn where he can get a hot meal and rice wine?

Let's bring it to our time and think of our lives. Have you ever stood on a road alone? Nothing but the cool evening. It can be very peaceful. Autumn is a time of reflection. And maybe we are thinking about the roads we did not take. Again, a poem of Robert Frost comes to mind. "I took the one less traveled on." Where are the roads in your life leading you?


message 13: by Harley (new)

Harley | 42 comments Compare this haiku of Buson's with these haiku of Basho:

Tethered horse;
snow
in both stirrups
— Buson

A winter's day;
On my horse's back
A shadow sits freezing.
— Basho

The cold rice-fields;
On horse-back,
My shadow creeps below.
— Basho

Basho's haiku can be found in A History of Haiku by R.H. Blyth, p. 122-123.


message 14: by Donald (new)

Donald (donf) | 20 comments Harley wrote: "Buson's haiku:

Tethered horse;
snow
in both stirrups

Can't you picture this winter scene? You can almost see the painting in your mind's eye. But where does the painter's eye foc..."


Harley: Greetings. I've come a bit late to this discussion, don't know if anyone's still home!!!

The Buson Haiku reminds me somehow of the lines from Auden's "Musee des Beaux Arts:"

"Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree."

I read the Haas collection a while back. I find it curious that he didn't include Shiki who is considered the 4th Japanese Master. Although I think his Haiku are generally less substantial than the
other 3, his influence certainly helped make the Haiku what it is today. (Donald Keene has written an
interesting Biography of Shiki that I read recently.)


message 15: by Shawn (new)

Shawn (shawnb) | 18 comments Mod
On my journey through haiku, I started reading Shiki, but I was really put off by him. His haiku just didn't measure up in to the previous three masters. Of course, he's the 4th master for a reason, but his writing just wasn't to my liking. I should give him another try.


message 16: by Harley (new)

Harley | 42 comments Donald, I am still around so thanks for commenting. Few people pass this way. As Frost said, "Two roads in a wood diverged and I took the one less traveled by."

I do like Shiki, but my favorite Japanese haiku poet is the 20th century, Santoka Taneda. Have you read his book, Mountain Tasting?


message 17: by Donald (new)

Donald (donf) | 20 comments Shawn and Harley - Greetings. Shawn I completely agree with your assessment of Shiki. (He was also a very bizarre person, according to what I read in the Donald Keene Biography. he was also very sick and died young. His output is impressive, but you could ask what else did he have to do all day?) Harley, I've searched for the Taneda book you mentioned and am having some difficulty getting it despite the fact I have easy access to one of the best University libraries in the country. Will probably have to get it through Interlibrary loan
I would rate the Masters in this order Issa, Basho, Buson, Shiki. I have even read that some people might even invite Fukuda Chiyo-ni to the pantheon. In fact I just found this ranking when searching the internet:

Haiku Masters

Matsuo Bashō
Yosa Buson
Fukuda Chiyo-ni
Kobayashi Issa
Masaoka Shiki


message 18: by Donald (last edited Jan 20, 2014 03:49PM) (new)

Donald (donf) | 20 comments Harley: Haven't read, "Mountain Tasting" but I did order it. Should have it in a few days.


message 19: by Donald (new)

Donald (donf) | 20 comments Update: I finally got a hold of "Mountain Tasting" and read it. I was a bit underwhelmed! It seems that I don't like free verse Haiku anymore than I like it in
regular poetry. (I do like some experimental and "concrete" haiku. "Tundra" by Van Den Heuvel was ingenious.)


message 20: by Harley (new)

Harley | 42 comments Donald, I am sorry you didn't like the book. What do you mean by free verse haiku? I understand free verse that does not rhyme, but haiku has never rhymed.


message 21: by Donald (new)

Donald (donf) | 20 comments Harley: Free verse isn't just the absence of Rhyme, it's the absence of any patterned structure. I would call any Haiku in English that didn't follow the 5/7/5 pattern to be free verse. I know, I know - I'm aware of all the controversies about 5/7/5. I think following that pattern, however, is a good starting point, especially for those just getting started in Haiku. Then, if creative urges leads one to diverge from that pattern , more power to them! Many of Santoka Taneda's Haiku just didn't make much sense to me - not that they were ambiguous, they were just pointless!!


message 22: by Michael (new)

Michael (micky74007) Donald wrote: "Harley: Free verse isn't just the absence of Rhyme, it's the absence of any patterned structure. I would call any Haiku in English that didn't follow the 5/7/5 pattern to be free verse. I know, I..."

I am slowly learning to write Haiku. Without the 5-7-5 discipline I think I would be wasting time and paper. I realize the syllable count is different in English than Japanese, but the structure forces me to think deeply about what I write.


message 23: by Donald (last edited Feb 09, 2014 10:55AM) (new)

Donald (donf) | 20 comments Michael: Thanks for your post. It's amazing how many people just can't get that point! Every Art form requires discipline and following a structured form is probably the best way to become disciplined. When you're confined to a very small space like 5/7/5 it does, as you said, make you labor over each word.


message 24: by Harley (new)

Harley | 42 comments Donald, I would agree for a person beginning to write haiku that the 5-7-5 is good discipline. I did for several years. But there are even more important elements in the creation of a haiku such as a season word, the juxtaposition of two images, and the avoidance of metaphor and simile. Unfortunately, I see too many poems that fit the 5-7-5 formula that are not even close to being haiku. People simply put thoughts into the 5-7-5 format. :)


message 25: by Dottie (new)

Dottie | 13 comments Harley wrote: "Donald, I would agree for a person beginning to write haiku that the 5-7-5 is good discipline. I did for several years. But there are even more important elements in the creation of a haiku such ..."

I agree fully, Harley. Jamming or expanding to the 5/7/5 pattern often makes awkward or non-creative haiku, in my humble opinion.


message 26: by Michael (new)

Michael (micky74007) Dottie wrote: "Harley wrote: "Donald, I would agree for a person beginning to write haiku that the 5-7-5 is good discipline. I did for several years. But there are even more important elements in the creation o..."

I agree with both of you. That is why I am having so hard a time with this format, and also why I will keep working to improve my writing. I have found so much "haiku" that is simply verbal vomit.


message 27: by Donald (new)

Donald (donf) | 20 comments Harley: I agree with your comments. I never said or implied that the 5-7-5 was the end all and the be all of Haiku. There will be those who write bad Haiku in 5-7-5 and those that write bad Haiku as free verse.The 800 pound gorilla in this discussion is talent. Not everyone can write a successful Haiku in 5-7-5 just as not everyone can write a successful Sonnet. Should we do away with these forms because not everyone can write in them? (Many would said yes, I'm sure, but that would be poetry's loss!)


message 28: by Dottie (new)

Dottie | 13 comments Donald wrote: "Harley: I agree with your comments. I never said or implied that the 5-7-5 was the end all and the be all of Haiku. There will be those who write bad Haiku in 5-7-5 and those that write bad Haiku a..."

Yes, you are correct. Let's not bury form!


message 29: by Donald (new)

Donald (donf) | 20 comments Dottie: I think you're on to something!!! Bury Caesar,
but not form!


message 30: by Harley (new)

Harley | 42 comments Now that we five of us reading and commenting, is there any book of haiku we want to read and discuss?


message 31: by Dottie (new)

Dottie | 13 comments I have a beautiful book of haiku, if that's what you are talking about, rather than a book about haiku. It's Zen Haiku, selected and translated by Jonathan Clements. It also has wonderful illustrations. Maybe we could find in it, some haiku that speaks to us, quote it and say why it says something. I don't know. Is that what you had in mind? Or something else?


message 32: by Harley (new)

Harley | 42 comments Yes, that is what I meant. Who are the poets?


message 33: by Dottie (new)

Dottie | 13 comments Some of the usual suspects: Basho, Boncho, Yasen, and others. Lovely poetry, but they certainly don't translate a 5,7,5! Just saying.


message 34: by Donald (new)

Donald (donf) | 20 comments How about one of the "Travelogues" of Basho, Issa or Buson? I'll check out the availability of the Jonathan Clements book Dottie mentioned. In the same vein, I own a book that I haven't read yet, "Japanese Death poems: Written by Zen Monks and the Haiku Poets on the Verge of Death." It's an interesting and eclectic Anthology!


message 35: by Harley (new)

Harley | 42 comments I have read the Japanese Death poems and surprisingly enjoyed it. I would be happy to read through it again. I also just picked up the Haiku in English. I glanced through it last night and as Donald says a lot of free verse. Some I would not characterize as haiku at all.


message 36: by Donald (new)

Donald (donf) | 20 comments Harley: I'm fine with "Japanese Death Poems" if everyone else is. As far as the Jonathan Clements - I can't find it, and I have easy access to a Large University Library. (Unfortunately, purchasing is not
an option!)

I do want to share this website that I just found of an Japanese-American Haiku writer who was in the Internment camps during WW2, his name Itaru Ina.

http://www.modernhaiku.org/essays/ita...

i really like this one of his:

nomare tsutsu kaeru mabataku hebi no kuchi

As it’s swallowed,
a frog blinks
in a snake’s mouth.

Can't vouch for the translation.

Another book I think would be interesting for a group read was one I came across a while back - and the Title I will have to search - where all the Haiku's are either a tribute to or parody of Basho's famous Frog jumping into the pond haiku. I'll try to find the Title.


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