For some years I have been advocating ways to innovate haiku approaches and techniques, and it has been a deep joy to share in English my excitement, including research into the flowering of Japanese gendai haiku (contemporary haiku).(1,2) In considering haiku, I tend to follow an expansive sensibility, articulated by Professor Haruo Shirane as,
Echoing the spirit of Basho's own poetry . . . haiku in English is a short poem, usually written in one to three lines, that seeks out new and revealing perspectives on the human and physical condition, focusing on the immediate physical world around us, particularly that of nature, and on the workings of the human imagination, memory, literature and history. . . . This definition is intended both to encourage an existing trend and to affirm new space that goes beyond existing definitions of haiku (Modern Haiku, vol 31:1, p. 60).
The “new space” Shirane refers to is vitally important to the future of haiku in English. And we don’t need to wait. In the last few years, poets have been presenting varieties of new spaces in several publications, including Simply Haiku. A retrospective of 320 haiku spanning the six years of the journal’s existence can be found in the Spring 2009 issue (vol. 7 no. 1). These selections provide an indication of the diversity and depth evident in haiku composition.
In the retrospective I find a freshness of language, conceptual creativity, linguistic creativity, mystery, suggestion, surprise. Reading and re-reading these works is emotionally tumultuous. Each being in shared company, there are moments of light and darkness, birth and death, social commitment and observation, war, annihilation, exile, love, intense passion, humor, loss. The world is reformed by the presence of technology, made sharper by the poet's pen, brought into focus by the haiku lens. Whether articulating deep despair or limpid clarity, objective presence or etched reminiscence, the overall impression is one of an accurate portrait of our era. This group of poems published over six years of Simply Haiku is a significant illustration of the power and relevance of haiku in English.
As can be seen in the works of some of our leading poets (including notable poets not appearing in the retrospective), the formal range of haiku poetry has been expanding, in part due to a broader understanding of techniques and sensibility. My own understanding of what is possible in haiku has also been evolving; “Plausible Deniability,” a recent article, contains a number of haiku I’ve found eye-opening.(3) It’s my hope that as a new generation becomes turned on to the possibilities of haiku in English, the genre will not become a footnote of history—the curious experiments of preceding eras. The question is where do we go from here. I invite you to browse and graze, imbibe the rich seas, skies and earths of this natural poetics. And please freely submit your haiku.
(1) “The Disjunctive Dragonfly: A Study of Disjunctive Method and Definitions in Contemporary English-language Haiku,” reprinted and revised in Simply Haiku, September-October 2004 (vol. 2, no. 5); updated in Poems of Consciousness: Contemporary Japanese and English-language Haiku in Cross-cultural Perspective, Red Moon Press, 2008 (306 pages), and reviewed by Johnye Strickland in Simply Haiku, Summer 2008, vol. 6 no. 2.
(2) Please visit “gendaihaiku.com” for subtitled flash-video interviews, biographies and poetry of some notable contemporary Japanese gendai luminaries.
(3) “Plausible Deniability: Nature as Hypothesis in English-language Haiku,” Simply Haiku, Spring 2008 (vol. 6 no. 1); reprinted from the PALA (The Poetics and Linguistics Association) 2007 Conference Proceedings (www.pala.ac.uk).
Copyright 2009: Simply Haiku