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An Interview with Sayumi Kamakura
By Kan'ichi Abe

Q. What is haiku writing for you?

A. For me, writing haiku is a way to get closer to my own thoughts. If I reflect on the wind or light, sky or earth, the green trees or beautiful flowers; my family and friends who comfort and support me and give me courage to live; the myriad of stories, music, and art, I have experienced in my life, there is nothing that does not rouse my soul. Such roused emotions, if left unwritten, are lost in the jumble of daily life. Because of this, I aim to capture the thought of every step, every moment, however slight, and express them through haiku.

Q. What is the most important essence of Japanese haiku?

A. When I first began writing haiku, I was taught that a haiku poem had to contain season words. To be quite blunt, a poem was considered a haiku only if it contained season words. Should this criterion really hold? Season words are still merely words. As long as they are words, then the emotions the author attempts to convey with them should take precedence over the words themselves. The Japanese haiku that has touched me are those where the author's true sentiments burst from the words. What is most important in haiku is how much true feeling is included in the poem. As Japanese haiku is composed of only seventeen syllables, the minimal word usage, the short and small literary space allotted, actually allows the words to clash and influence each other for the better.

Q. Does haiku other than Japanese have a new character?

A. The thoughts that have been written down so far in haiku are those of individuals who rejoice, get angry, cry, and laugh. We are all different, from our native languages to our eyes and skin colors and yet, the fact is that we are all living. As long as each and every one of us desires to express our inner feelings and thoughts through haiku, I believe that haiku will emerge wherever one may be.

Q. Can haiku be a bridge between different cultures?

A. In Japan, the phrase 'The distance one may walk before a warm soup cools' is used to describe the closeness between individuals and between families. The conciseness of haiku provides a fitting literary distance for connections between individuals to be made. However, when there is a difference in language, there is an uncertainty of just how much we can understand each other. Furthermore, it is hard for someone who has never seen snow to imagine the coldness or whiteness of the snow, or more yet, imagine how the whole landscape turns white. But this does not mean that haiku is limited in its boundaries.

Q. How well does Japanese haiku translate into English?

A. The most important bases are the comprehension of the substance of haiku that has been written and the continued desire to understand the form. Just writing down what one sees, one can write haiku. However, if one reads haiku with the heart, one can tell how much soul has been put into the poem. All the more, because haiku is so concise, it reveals the vicious or superficial nature. Haiku requires the true words of a pure soul. However, it is a reality that we all have different native languages. English is not enough to make haiku accepted in all countries. We must mutually try to heighten the level of haiku translation.

Q. What is the World-Wide role of Japanese haiku poets after WHAC2?

A. What Japanese haiku poets must do first and foremost is to translate and introduce abroad the superb haiku poems of modern time, those of the Meiji, Taisho, Showa, and Heisei eras. Particularly, haiku written after the Showa era (1926) has rarely been introduced internationally. I don't know if such haiku will be interpreted in the same way as in Japan but possibly, a new way to understand the poems will develop. There will come a day when haiku will no longer be in the hands of Japanese poets. Before that day comes, it is crucial that outstanding Japanese haiku poems be spread widely. Haiku poems, originated from Japan, are so diverse. Many of them are exceptional. Haiku has developed its expressive possibilities. I would like to let this be known.

Sayumi Kamakura was born in Kochi Prefecture, Japan, in 1953. She began composing haiku while a student at Saitama University and studied haiku under the guidance of Toshiro Nomura and Sho Hayashi.

In 1983, she won the Oki Sango Prize. The lyrical style of her haiku drew the attention of Toru Haga and Tohta Kaneko. In 1998 she established the international haiku quarterly Ginyu (Troubadour) with Ban'ya Natsuishi, and has been its Editor since that time.

She is also a member of the Modern Haiku Association. She has been expressing a woman's view, captured with fine sensitivity, in her haiku. In 2001, she won the Modern Haiku Association Prize.

Her published haiku collections include: Jun (Moisture, 1984), Mizu no Jujika (Water Cross, 1987), Tenmado Kara (From the Skylight, 1992), Kamakura Sayumi Kushu (Haiku of Sayumi Kamakura, 1998), Hashireba Haru (Running, It's Spring, 2001). She co-authored Gengai Haiku Panorama (1994), Gendai Haiku Handbook (1995), Gendai Haiku Shusei Zen 1 Kan (Contemporary Haiku Anthology in One Volume, 1996), etc. She also published, in both Japanese and English, A Singing Blue: 50 Selected Haiku (2000).

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