There comes a time akin to learning to ride a bike, when we have to discard theory, critique, and analysis, and just start riding our bikes with the structural support of our 5-7-5 training wheels. Eventually it is the practical experience of actually riding a bike or reading and writing the haiku, again, and again, and again that develops our ability to become proficient. Then we can detach from our 5-7-5 training wheels.
It's sadly ironic that the essence of what makes haiku so aesthetically and literally unique is also contributing to its natural demise. Despite all this I still feel compelled to continue creating traditional & non-traditional haiku, and senryu, along with other ehi, like tanka, haiga, and poekuagery.
So what does it feel like when the poet collaborates with nature and artistically processes zoka, koto, and shizen. How does the reader know they're experiencing traditional haiku?
"Have you ever blown soap bubbles through a plastic ring? You know that moment when you touch a soap bubble with your fingertip and it disappears ... That’s an ephemeral moment ... a moment of tactile and sensory lucidity ... when your mind and body are momentarily unified and seem paused within the arch of time ... As if caught up in a moment of walking meditation ... that’s when we're more open to lucid discerning when our sensory conduits are peeked to being receptive ... to other visceral ways of hearing ... seeing ... and knowing ... Ideally haiku hold within them a gateway to one of those other intangible ways of (perceiving) sharing and knowing". (Bukusai Ashagawa, JIKU)
When this soap bubble moment is being blown by the haijin through the mossy wooden ring of nature, then the poet and the reader are experiencing haiku in an ideal setting. When readers experience this while reading, they can even recreate these moments again for themselves. How? Via these sub vocal readings of haiku we can experience them again and again. After these readings we can harness the energy of the poet. Then we the reader can use this energy as a catalyst to inspire our own creative process.
Advocating for sub vocal readings of Haiku
I adamantly believe that haiku’s readers should at least initially read haiku sub vocally or silently. Why? Well here is what one of America's Haiku Masters had to say in reference to how she ideally envisioned someone reading her work.
"My dream reader would have this book ... laying on a nightstand ... (or even in a little room of great relief) where, in an idle moment when the soul is soft and open, there is time to snatch a glimpse of a poem or two. Soon finding something to ponder, the book would be closed and laid down with the mind far away in the realm of imaging" (Jan Reichhold, Gualala, California October 1991).
“Abrahamic traditions tend to focus outward and Dharmic ones, inward. The difference between observing historical mandates and discovering the structures of consciousness is stark” (Rajiv Malhorta)
When we experience a Dharmic art form like haiku aloud we are projecting our focus, our experience outwards. Yet when we read haiku sub vocally, silently, we are engaging with the images, sounds, smells, and tactile experiences of being a part of nature inwards, internalizing them, and in essence momentarily becoming vicariously unified with them. If we are listening to haiku being presented as spoken word if you will, we have replaced our own internal voice with an external one. Now we have two external elements, the words on the page, and the voice of the person externally inserting/reading the poem into our conscious. This replaces our own internal voice with an external one, which only dilutes and possibly distorts the intensity with which the words on the page impact us. Unnecessary external elements decreases the chance we will viscerally connect to the poets words, as if we were a stalk of bamboo swaying within a groove of bamboo. If this is the only method available to present a haiku, then by all means do so. Still I believe that at least initially, sub vocally reading haiku quietly alone to be ideal.
Nature & Art, where Eastern & Western Traditions gather
Think for a moment of a plein aire painting, nature is as synonymous to this art form as it is to haiku. Or think of classical landscapes painters like Van Gogh, Cezanne, or Monet, they all personified traditional A-W or Abrahamic painting. The natural creative process of these western oil painters (especially in regards to their western way of rendering clouds) influenced their (Dharmic) woodblock painting counterparts like, Hokusai and Hiroshige, and vice versa.
Can you imagine Van Gogh, Cezanne, or Monet painting nature primarily from their studios rather than for the most part in the natural scenes they artistically rendered upon their canvases? So I wonder, why might it seem like we too, don't need to be out and about in nature as we create haiku today. Saigyo, Basho, and Issa all wrote haiku as a part of the natural environment that much of their kigo either existed in or was derived from. How can we expect to be any different than our artistic predecessors? Predecessors like Ansel Adams with his grand landscapes. Or one of his sojourning companions Georgia O’Keefe, and her interpretative renderings of the Southwest landscapes. These varied art forms and artists all embraced what they experienced in nature, at least for a time as their primary subject.
Nature, it transcends Western Transcendentalism and Eastern Embodied Knowledge, or Dharmic and Abrahamic thinking. Nature, it's continually challenging our conceptions of self and the nature of nature. Maybe haiku would find itself revitalized if we began a "plein aire haiku movement" of our own.
So here’s to striving to get us all to paint haiku with several broader less definitive brush strokes. I am hoping that together we can acknowledge and embrace the diversity and intersectionality of the many ways haiku is written and defined today; in doing so our brush strokes can become more unified and once again personify "nature with her seasonal changes that much like haiku idioms personify unity while transcending uniformity" (Bukusai Ashagawa).
Nature as a muse, “the way of life, the way of haikai”
Why does traditional/classical ehi resonate with A-W readers? While meanwhile the actual creative process required to write it isn’t resonating with most poets today? I believe the reason for this imbalance is in part due to the fact that nature’s creative essence is not consciously being accessed as part of their creative process (zoka) when creating haiku. Meanwhile readers of ehi vicariously glimpse into a world that seems peculiar, esoteric, and enigmatic. I would argue that most haiku poets today have only to tap into the latent zoka awaiting to be awakened within them, while unified with nature. This can be accomplished simply by embarking on extended sojourns into, and more importantly as a part of nature. Though modern society does not lend itself to creatively writing haiku in conjunction with nature; and academia and literate society does not perceive nature as an element essential to, and intertwined with our intellectual and spiritual development. I believe creating or spending time in nature to be essential in the development of a haiku writer’s process. It can also be applicable in the development and process of many other intellectual, scholarly, artistic, and other art forms as well. I believe this type of interactive collaboration with nature to be essential to humanities continued development as an integrated part of our planets ecosystem. Without this kind of interaction with nature humanity will continue to act as a divisive force, one that continues to decimate the planet.
During a 2013 interview with WIRED MAGAZINE, the Icelandic musician and performance artist Bjork said this in regards to how she conceptualizes music. “European (musical) notation is not the only or proper way. (Musical) Notes are not just B&W, from a European point of view”. She then spoke of African and Japanese music as being equally valid forms of music. Again during a 1991 Charlie Rose Interview she spoke of sporadically having to return to nature alone in a tent, to replenish herself before returning to more urban settings.
I think embarking on sojourns into nature is something many feel compelled to do from time to time. The musician Bjork speaks of nature’s music, as many haijin do of nature's visual, auditory, and olfactory imagery. Bjork speaks of nature’s sounds, as sources she derives much of her musical inspiration from. She states nature played a key role in her development as a young vocalist, musician, and performance artist. It is not much different for haijin, we too find inspiration in nature, although instead of processing the visual and auditory stimuli we experience in nature vocally or musically, our process is to transpose these experiential stimuli literally if you will, in a style we call haiku. Haijin today much like Basho and his frog pond, visually leap, and auditor-ally kerplunk into the waters of our haiku. Only we need to engage with haiku with more intentionality, with the intent to unite as part of nature, rather than as detached neutral observers apart from it.
Today on our planet most all of us live in urban, suburban, or rural environments. Far fewer of us live in the backcountry of Alaska for instance. Very few of us intentionally spend extended time or live isolated in the woods. Think for a moment of Emerson, Thoreau or Whitman, and the way they spoke of their experiences of living or being in the woods, much like Basho, but in a more A-W or transcendental-ist manner. They did so from the perspective of perceiving the wonderment in nature, while still speaking as if apart from nature; which is opposed to haiku's idealistic perspective of speaking as if an integral part of nature and her cycles. To paraphrase Basho "The earth’s cyclical changes of Heaven & Earth are the seeds of Hokku Poetry". "The way of life and the way of haikai ... are inseparable". (Quoted to me by a Buddhist Monk in Sapporo, Japan) By the way of life he too, was referencing the cyclical ways of nature.
This way of life, this way of nature is what I experience as well. I experienced it, while working as an artist in residence in the forests of Northern Hokkaido (Japan), and again while staying at a monastery in Tibet, and once again "Up the Mtn" at my writers hovel in the Willamette National Forest in the Pacific Northwest, and yet again while hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail for months at a time, or while staying at forest lookouts. All of these experiences were characterized by simplistic living. I was living where life was dictated to me by my internal unification with the rhythms and cycles of nature, rather than by the externally projected uniformity of a clock. These experiences have played a key role in my development as a haikijin, tanka, and senryu poet. It is nature and her cyclical daily and seasonal rhythms that bring forth my innate ability, my embodied knowing and understanding. It is something we are all equally capable of innately tapping into. Even a trip out into the woods car camping can begin to produce similar results.
"Basho ... alone outside during a frigid winter night ...he saw a thread-thin moon, a scene that can be cold, stark, or beautiful, depending on a person's frame of mind ... he was watching nature sculpt his surroundings and thoughts. ... The changes of heaven and earth are the seeds of poetry ... He was watching zoka with his five senses" (paraphrased from Makota Ueda's "Basho and His Interpreters")
Nature is key in my creative process too, when creating haiku. Simply sitting quietly in a forest can begin one's transformation of readily sensing and becoming one with nature’s impermanence. That intangible creative artistic force intertwined in natures own unique way. We are all born with this innate capacity to artistically create in unison with nature, though most of us get in touch with it in more man made or mukigo/senryu like ways. As a janitor, scholar, garbage person, athlete, parent, artist, prisoner, homeless person, etc, all of us develop methods of creatively working and living, though usually not in and as a part of nature.
Haiku’s natural essence transcends western transcendentalism and eastern embodied knowledge. It does so with natural imagery, auditory symbolism, tactile sensations, and olfactory tangibility. When we naturally interacting with and learn from them, the haijin can personify nature’s essence when they put pen to paper. An thus they begin the process of "becoming the bamboo, to speak of the bamboo".
Embodied intuition and finite scientific truth
I believe what Basho and to a lesser extent Shiki were trying to address was the possibility of realigning ourselves with our latent embodied knowledge, which we are all innately capable of accessing. This creative force can be ignited and transformed into poetry or most any other creative endeavor. It is what I too have experienced as a martial artist for over twenty years. This is a process that does not require any scholarly knowledge. It is just that as our society advances, our ability to artistically co-create with nature is impeded, and our embodied intuition begins to seem more and more enigmatic in nature, as opposed to being something we realistically endeavor to develop in ourselves
So how do we write with kigo as the theme of our haiku? Well it's a task that’s ideally pursued in solitude amidst nature. Learn about the "pines from the pines and about the bamboo from the bamboo". (Masako Hiraga, Eternal Stillness”)
"Haiku exists in what one sees and what one hears. The sincerity of haiku is to put what a poet feels directly in the verse". (Sanzoshi, in ibid., pp. 157-158)
"Pivotal to Matsuo Basho's teachings on the composition of hokku (haiku) is his belief in the essentialness, of the infinity of following zoka, while in the moment, letting go the finite teachings determined as truth by science." (a paraphrasing from Robert D. Wilsons online essay “The Colonization of Haiku”).
"Dharmic Philosophy conceptualizes time, like the cosmos, as being infinite, without beginning or end, whereas Abrahamic Philosophy conceptualizes time as starting upon the creation of this one-and-only finite universe that will terminate at the forthcoming End Times." (paraphrased from Malhotra, Rajiv’s Being Different). If we want to become more accomplished at writing haiku, I believe we have to open ourselves to the infinite possibilities that our unified interactions with nature can cooperatively create.
This is the challenge for all of us, to acknowledge and accept rather than tolerate the cultural contributions all of us make. In doing so we become acquainted with other Ways of being, thinking, and artistically creating; these ways that are equally valid and worthy of us all, as members of our planets intersectional and multicultural world.
For example, I’ve been taught by A-W scholars how to write Italian and English sonnets. Yet I do not try to redefine them or try to replace a sonnets A-W essence, its rhyme scheme of stressed and unstressed syllables with haiku’s syllable or onji/mora counting. I do not try to, appropriate octav (propositioning) with haiku’s mid verse cutting, or sestet (questioning) with haiku’s end verse cutting, and then outright eliminate a sonnets volta all together. To do so and no longer call it a sonnet is one thing. Yet to do so and still characterize it as a Japanese Sonnet is no different then what many do when they call English senryu haiku. This is also what is known as cultural reappropriation, and we have to stop doing it.
Many justifiably criticize much of the haiku written today. It seems there is no disagreement in regards to the dearth of kigo if not kireji, in much of the haiku published today. Why is this occurring, and how do we rectify it?
Well “The essence of haiku is in its natural imagery, not in a metaphoric presentation of symbolic poetic language”. (Bruce Ross “Haiku Mainstream” in Modern Haiku).
Unless we poets find novel ways to re-engage with nature how can we be expected to speak to or of nature, when we know nothing of it, relative to those like Basho who lived not just in nature, but as a part of it. We often speak and write to what we know of, our human experience, "Symbolic, metaphoric representations" of manmade life, in essence mukigo/senryu act as the fraternal twin to kigo's/haiku's natural imagery. It is not that metaphor cannot be used in haiku; it is what is being symbolically represented by the metaphor, nature or man, kigo or mukigo. It is not that one generation of poets is greater or lesser than the poets of another era, it is simply that most all poets tend to speak to their life experience. If Basho were born and raised today, in say Tokyo, NYC, or London he too would likely employ mukigo and write satirical senryu to a much greater extent.
So we have to ask ourselves wouldn't today’s Basho write of his life experience using mukigo, while still writing with what he characterized as karumi in his life? Isn't, wasn't, Basho's conclusion in his hut to get out of it, and cease isolating himself, to speak to life around him regardless of where he was?
When living in a city I frequently leave society to become immersed in, and unified with nature. I do so through a firsthand experience of its natural imagery, its kigo. Then once in this natural environment haiku inevitably, for a time effortlessly flows from me. Other forms of poetry like senryu can do the same for us, when we are in an environment dominated instead by the senryu poets subject matter, humanity.
It seems senryu and haiku have reached a point where they are almost undistinguishable to most. So how do we begin to differentiate them? Well how is haiku defined by scholars, experts, critics, publishers, and those who write it?
As Makota Ueda put it in his translation of "The Path of Flowering Thorn; The Life and Poetry of Yuson Buson", Stanford University Press, 1998.
"... haiku ... has sunk into an abyss of ... inadequate study ... unable to agree on what is and isn't haiku, in Japan and in the Anglo-West ... Japanese aesthetics were replaced by Anglo-Western aesthetic concepts ... the concept of kigo was reinvented to accommodate an Anglophile mindset far removed from Taoist ... Shamanic animism Buddhist Doctrine ... Confucian Group ideas ... and Shinto adaptation of animism ... haiku suffers from an identity crisis people have yet to cure ... Today's haiku ... is ... this homogenization of cultures ... kigo, meter, and aesthetic styles ... There is no East or West. Haiku has become an Anglo-Western poetic genre. Definitions for haiku are obscure with most publications admitting that haiku is in limbo, definition wise". (Makota Ueda)
Here in the west most struggle with how to interact with nature. Although well intentioned, Fuller and Emerson's concepts of transcendentalism are still derived from examples of Abrahamic and Greek historicism, which struggles to reconcile these accommodating anglophile mindsets. This culturally specific and self conflicted A-W mindset just can’t be universally applied to all other cultures. Just as concepts of Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Shinto or Confucianism cannot be expected to be universally applicable throughout the A-W world.
Attempting to Identify or define haiku as I've been doing in this essay is akin to doing much the same with Buddhism or it's concept of emptiness. Some things, some concepts, can't be quantifiably or qualitatively measured, defined, analyzed, or classified, especially in words. Some art forms are more intangible than tangible in nature. It would be like trying to definitively write of a ballerina's' pirouette or a martial artists tobi ukemi. As if you could literally capture the essence of their physical and or spiritual presence and movements, by scribbling ink across a page. Still for the part of me that is influenced by the A-W world, I'm aware that I’m contradicting myself, by attempting to define haiku into words.
I'd define haiku as a poem whose essence is personified by nature. It's nature is personified through kigo. Kigo speaks to the elusiveness of nature's minutia. This minutia, this kigo, is superficially defined as a seasonal reference; a reference that can ideally be processed with zoka, with which we can create haiku. Kigo in haiku acts as the literary personification of nature's yugen essence. Nature's essence, it's yugen is what haiku abstractly embodies. This in part is why haiku is so hard to literally define.
From a more technical A-W perspective, traditional haiku should also include ya or kana style Kireji or toriawase; reinterpreted into English, which is expressed through punctuation, words, space, or an abrupt change of subject matter. Most all haiku should follow a short long short format. Although I do believe that jimari and jitarazu are occasionally acceptable. There is also kaeru which Basho periodically employed. kaeru references the rare swapping of the short long short format for long-short-short or short-short-long. I believe on extremely rare occasions this too is acceptable. One line haiku are also acceptable. To me it's akin to jazz improvisation. Still as a poet I think you have to demonstrate that you've written extensively in the more traditional format, before re-interpretively writing haiku with jimari, jitarazu, or kaeru . Haiku of course includes what can be defined as subjects. I think that subjectivity is also acceptable (on par with jimari, jitarazu, and kaeru), when used sparingly, although I know many do not. Most definitively I believe that including kigo/kidai from saijiki to be the essential ingredient in traditional/classical haiku; and again you can still have haiku that is more contemporary as opposed to traditional/classical which doesn’t containing kigo/kidai from saijiki.
I have heard it said that haiku should be more activity based. For instance, reading some of Mr. Wilson's other online essays he described "object based haiku" as "falling flat", or as being "mush melon". I'd say I prefer more action or movement based haiku as well. Though I do think there is a place for more static/passive based haiku, on occasion. I've chosen a few of my more passive based haiku that have a different feel as examples. Still I believe these haiku are as effective as the activity based ones contrasting them.
passive mush melon, or object based movement, action based
Northwest Cathedral rapedseeds
mossy knotted gnarled sap STUMPED! husks swept about by brooms
Old Growth AVATAR sprawled naked grains
a weathered season moonlit mountain winds
the age of fall unfolding shrieking thru valley nostrils
browned ferns fall buds abstruse treetop breeze
cherry petals draw
A visual eulogy
falling past their prime
From a more artistic perspective this is how I define haiku.
"Haiku are meant to evoke an emotional response from the reader ... to light the spark that triggers creative rumination ... They act as literary manifestations ... visions of nature’s seasonal modulations ... They're emotionally tinged words, barely perceptible sensory flickers ... literary etchings of lucid visions transposed into the minds of its readers ... They're meant to act as sensory catalysts ... like the passing of a penciled baton laid out upon a piece of paper that a reader might grasp for in their mind's eye ... all of which prompts the reader to continue exploring the sensory experience elicited from the writers pen ... This is how the literary sketching of poets are intended to function ... as creative muses with which readers can draw from and viscerally apply to their own artistic idioms ... from that lucid space within their heads ... where their minds eye can spark their own creative visions"
Bukusai Ashagawa, 2013
(Ashagawa, Bukusai, from the 6th edition of the book JIKU)
So how do you think haiku should be defined? Do you think it can or should be defined? What about kireji? How many kireji in a haiku are appropriate? What style of kireji do you prefer? How many kireji if any at all actually exist, before the poet creates their own? How do you feel about subjectivity or active versus passive haiku? How do you feel about jimari, jitarazu, and kaeru? We need to come to some sort of consensus on these issues in order to clarify the meaning and purpose of haiku. We don’t need to agree on everything, but we do need to acknowledge others that write and define haiku differently then we do. We need to find common literary ground to unify and move haiku forward. Maybe we can all endorse different styles or schools of haiku. Styles and schools that have varied and unique focuses, yet also share common characteristics. In doing so I believe we can unify the way haiku is characterized, without making it uniform or static in nature. Our reluctance to constructively yet critically engage in these types of discussions is in part why “haiku suffers from an identity crisis people have yet to cure” (Makota Ueda)
Discovering Dharmic & Abrahamic Divinity coetaneously in Nature
Many in the western academic and literary world and in society in general are subtly influenced by conservative Abrahamic views. This influence suppresses and subverts whatever is deemed divergent, in regards to philosophical, literary, and poetic ways of thinking and writing. Rajiv Malhotra speaks to these conflicted and subversive influences in many theological and even some academic circles in the A-W world. “Whoever is not for Jesus will be assumed to be against him and on the side of the Devil. For such believers, a mutually respectful engagement with dharma is tantamount to dealing with the Devil. It would be sinful to engage on any terms other than the clear intent to convert.” (Excerpt From: Malhotra, Rajiv. “Being Different.” iBooks.).
All of this is in opposition to most Hindus, Buddhists, and many First Nations and Native American Peoples who more pluralistically accept Jesus as one of several divine incarnations, but not as God's exclusive divine incarnation. So I wonder, do christian or Abrahamic haiku poets likewise feel conflicted in regards to accepting the possibility that nature might be a place where they can discern divinity that might be independent of their Abrahamic God? Do we need to do so in order to write haiku on a higher level, one that transcends our religious and spiritual beliefs, if only momentarily? Does doing so or even discussing the possibility threaten our/their religious beliefs? Can the christian God coexist as an equal with the plethora of deities that may also exist in nature? These are complex, controversial, and nuanced issues. They're also issues that each of us has to come to terms with individually. Sadly, many of us deal with these issues by dismissing their relevance, much like we do with other intersectionally complex issues of oppression. Do we have to perceive spiritual or religious divinity in nature at all, to write haiku on a higher level?
I don't have definitive answers to these questions, although I'm aware of and open to ideas that may seem divergent from my own.
Still I'm attempting to brooch these issues in broader and more generalized terms by initiating a dialogue. It is the West's continued reappropriation of kigo for mukigo that is watering down the depth and aesthetic integrity of Saigyo’s Wakka, Basho's Hokku and Sokan & Shiki's Haiku, as they continue to be re-translated and thus gentrified into English. This loss of natural aesthetic integrity was accelerated by a catalyst. This catalyst is the Anglo-West's egocentric segregation of man apart from nature. This is exacerbated by the west’s own Abrahamic/Greek division, one that continues its internal struggle to synthesize a uniform Abrahamic /Greek conceptualization and interaction with nature; as opposed to coexisting with, or even embracing a more Dharmic perspective that views nature as divine in and of itself, irrespective of the presence of any deity. The west's discord is aggravated by the many A-W poets who are unaware of their detachment or resistance to concepts they may repressively perceive as divergent, because they independently (of god) personify nature as divine. This concept of nature’s divinity speaks to the essence of haiku. This essence is personified in the poetry of poets like Saigyo, Basho, Issa, Sokan, Shiki, Buson, etc. Even A-W and Persian poets like Thoreau, Emerson, Whitman, Rumi, and later Wright all acknowledged nature’s divinity in their own way. To write haiku, or of haiku we too must come to some spiritual complacency in regards to natures divine essence or at least its secular wonderment, otherwise haiku's essence will continue to be distorted and corrupted.
Often without realizing it A-W's and Westernized-Easterners are frequently shackled with this contradiction between Abrahamic and Dharmic spiritual and religious perceptions of divinity in regards to its application and meaning in ehi. This intellectual and spiritual contradiction, this discord spills over into how all of us conceptualize and apply Dharmic based terms like shizen, koto, zoka, and even kigo, in relation to our perceptions of the role nature plays in our lives and in haiku.
So, how can A-W poets indoctrinated into this self conflicted culture of secularism (Greek based academic evolutionism), synthesized with non-secular (abrahamic based creationism) thought become open to writing in a more passive voice, a less peremptory manner? How can A-W poets write in a manner that they can be receptive participants in collaboratively creating haiku with nature, as opposed to writing apart from nature? I choose to believe you can continue to honor and not betray your Abrahamic spiritual ideals while simultaneously embracing others as equals, that have different ways of being. This is after all what those “Manifested” by the 'Destiny" of the A-W empire have done while being colonized and gentrified by us. Still many of us that were raised to believe it's our way (senryu) or the highway, or perceive their way of being, thinking, or believing, as being superior to all others will have great difficulty, poetically speaking to nature as if it were independent of God, yet still divine.
To paraphrase Rajiv Malhotra "No amount of human commonality can resolve the conflicts caused by the non-negotiable and proprietary grand narratives of Abrahamic historicism". I hope Malhotra is wrong. If he is not, then how can we expect Abrahamic writers, scholars, readers, etc to find commonality amongst themselves, never mind with a Dharmic art form like haiku?
This issue of haiku/senryu is an intersectionally conflicted one. It is a literary issue intersected by class, cultural, race, ethnicity, linguistics, religion, spirituality, and conceptions of nature/naturalism that are unique to haiku.
"...The epistemology of modern science is not the intuitive perception of ... essence or form of things ... it is a technical, formative epistemology ... that tortures so-called nature to force nature itself to answer". (Ban'ya Natsuichi in his online essay, "Technique Used in Modern Japanese Haiku: Vocabulary and Structure".)
Still I would suggest that one of Japan's Cultural contributions to the literary world is haiku's methodology, it's unique hermeneutic poetic aesthetic, Haiku's teleological perspective unifies natural threads that in turn transcend the Judeo-Christian God or humanities self absorbed mukigo like ways, while speaking to our innate embodied (shizen) connection to unifying our integral (zoka) relationship with nature.
Why is kigo essential to traditional haiku, structurally and thematically? Because! "By including Kigo in haiku, the rhythm of the earth's revolution is incorporated within haiku". (Robert D. Wilson's excerpt from his interview with Kai Hasegawa from his online essay "The Colonization of Japanese Haiku"). So this is why kigo and to a lesser extent kireji are the definitive characteristics of traditional haiku. "Kigo usage in Japan was a given before ... the Gregorian calendar". (Robert D. Wilson from his online essay "The Colonization of Japanese Haiku"). Kigo is an issue I've also addressed in my book, JIKU. I also agree with Wilson when he states "Again a restructuring of the Japanese vocabulary and its poetic perception/interpretation of nature; a side effect of the self-imposed colonization of cultural memory". (Robert D. Wilson from his online essay "The Colonization of Japanese Haiku").
Again this is what Gandhi referred to as “stripping people of their collective notion of self … (via
the) “systematic destruction of their relationship with nature” This “self-imposed” colonization of cultural memory continues today. Haiku's colonization takes the form of a 5-7- 5 shelled format. This colonized shell is then filled with muki as its primary ingredient. This is how colonization systematically re- appropriates how the world perceives the essence of hokku/haiku. This redefining of kigo as an optional accessory rather than essential ingredient in haiku, is the result of A-W perspectives. A-W perspectives usually feel comfortable linguistically rather than spiritually assimilating haiku. They linguistically do so by counting syllables and employing short-long-short lines, akin to counting rhyme schemes, lines, meter, and syllable stressing in a sonnet. Yet many A-W's feel religious or spiritual discomfort accepting nature as the essentially divine subject of their poetry, equal to, or god forbid more divine then their Christian God. After all nature is the "other" subject, one in which they/we have a maladaptive relationship, distorted by our historicists linear way of seeing the world.
I would suggest there is an insidious and subtle reason for the distortion in the artistic authenticity
and natural aesthetic quality of haiku. This distortion is being intensified today, and is the result of
humanities modern and technological progression apart from nature.
Traditional or classical Haiku is distorted when it’s confused with senryu. Often even well
intentioned poets, critics, publishers, and the media erroneously identify senryu as haiku. This is how
haiku's unique natural aesthetic is re-appropriated, and in a sense is gentrified by the A-W World.
Senryu that reference nature with human or manmade themes at the forefront, themes
which are not created or included as saijiki simply do not qualify as traditional/classical haiku. What is
saijiki? Saijiki is a list of kidai/seasonal topics, and kigo/seasonal words. Several regions, countries, and
organizations around the world have even created their own culturally and geographically specific saijiki.
These saijiki are usually derived from or are seasonally aligned with Japanese Saijiki. On the other hand
there is nothing wrong with non-traditional haiku that does not derive its kigo from saijiki. Still
there is a distinct difference between traditional/classical haiku, non-traditional haiku, and senryu.
Again when writing traditional/classical haiku Kidai/kigo are applied to the season one is
writing of. Japan's traditional/classical perception and categorization of seasons into a book of saijiki
differs from our A-W concept of seasons. This difference is where cultural and ethnic misconceptions of
how we perceive nature begins. It is our failure as haijin, to clearly define what is and isn't haiku, that
contributes to the public’s confusion, and ennui in regards to how haiku is defined. This has created a
haiku identity crisis in the A-W world, since it isn’t being definitively self defined in A-W terms. So the
A-W world treats traditional haiku as a divergent literary art form. An art form which acquires limited
tangible or artistic value in A-W society. This is where, how, and why ehi like haiku struggle in A-W
society. It is also part of why senryu is beginning to thrive, often under a guise indistinguishable from
The primary distinction between senryu and traditional haiku can be discerned in how
haiku references nature as defined by kigo/kidai drawn from saijiki as its subject. So what does it mean to
have nature as the subject of a haiku? Well when writing traditional haiku nature is defined as anything
that is identifiable or listed as kigo/kidai. Saijiki does include some references to humanity or manmade
objects. Again this is where confusion can creep in. Since saijiki include references to humanity and
manmade objects, this does not give us free reign to begin speaking of manmade issues if they are not
included in saijiki. Although if we take the time to create our own saijiki, and list manmade issues under a
specific season then the poem can be called traditional haiku. Writing haiku derived from a list of saijiki
or kigo/kidai can simultaneously limit and expand the subject matter available to a haiku poet. Kigo/kidai
allow us to indirectly speak of nature without necessarily directly referencing nature, its plants, animals,
etc; to do so we have to use seasonal references/kigo or topics/kidai when speaking of humanity or
Still when writing haiku outside of the geographic area of Japan I believe it is acceptable to
improvise if you will. If you are going to improvise then I think the kigo or kidai you use must reference
nature from the locale you are writing of. It is also perfectly acceptable to create your own book of
saijiki for your own geography, culture, ethnicity, etc as well. Again I want to reiterate there is nothing
wrong with writing senryu, or non-traditional haiku not derived from saijiki. I’m just trying to create a
clear framework for future distinctions between them.
Speaking of nature, and our interactive sources of discord
"The future direction of haiga is uncertain ... since it depends on the future of
haiku itself. ... powerful influences ... lead potential poets away from nature ...
away from extraordinary awareness of the seasons ... away from the
observation of minute but flavorful moments of daily life. Instead of the
traditional cycles of rural life ... there is now a pervading focus on urban
existence with its stress on products and possessions. Japanese like
Americans are ... deluged with mass entertainment ... we can only hope that
both haiku poetry and haiga will continue to serve as a counterweight to the
pressures of the modern world."
(Published by Marsh Art Gallery and the University of Richmond, in association with the University of
Hawaii Press. From the book entitled Haiga: Takebe Socho and The Haiku-Painting Tradition: Haiga and
Humanities discord, our dysfunction and/or maladaptive behavior in regards to the way we
interact with and perceive nature, have two sources. Though before I address these sources, I'll
speak to what I mean when I refer to “our natural interactions with nature”. When I speak of our
interactions with nature I’m speaking of our comfort level, in regards to when we live or spend time in a
forest or anywhere in nature for extended periods. I speak of existing and then thriving in a setting where
nature, her elements and the others living beings that coexist within it dictate to you, rather than you
imposing upon them. I speak of putting on a pack and living in a tent/shelter where there is no bathroom,
running water or electricity. Or living in a small cabin where protecting your food source from ants, mice,
and bears is as much a concern as stocking your wood stove or fireplace; where stoking that wood stove
or fireplace is not just for heat, but as a cooking and self defense source. To live in nature where dusk,
dawn, and the whims of the weather dictates what you do, rather then a job. This is what I mean when I
refer to "our natural interactions with nature”, especially in regards to our dysfunctional and/or
maladaptive interactions being the sources of our natural discord.
These sources of discord with nature have brought to the forefront a "distinctly" A-W form of
pastiche haiku. This form of poetry uses haiku's "cicada shell" if you will, its 5-7-5 or short-long-short
format. This form of poetry is then used to fill the inside of the cicada with mukigo instead of kigo
to create haiku's fraternal twin, senryu.
At least two of the sources of our discord are Abrahamic (Anglo-Western) maladaption and
Dharmic (Eastern) dysfunctionality, in regards to how most of us associate and interact with nature today.
Generally speaking, Dharmic origins have a preponderance of views that speak to nature as being seen as
divine in and of itself. While Abrahamic or A-W views maladaptively characterize humanity as
patriarchal, as imposing our interests upon nature, it treats nature as a resource for man, to tame or impose
Abrahamic order upon.
Think for a moment of the American painter John Gast, and his symbolic painting “American
Progress”. It acts as a sort of crude haiga. The symbology of the A-W world accompanied by text
that epitomized western domination.
Here is an excerpt from the text of the "Manifest Destiny" which often accompanied Gast's
painting."To control North America ... as god's chosen people ... to spread civilization, free market
capitalism, and Christianity ... to enlighten the world ... bringing light into the darkness".
These words and Gast's painting would come to personify the symbology of America’s westward
expansion or its “Manifest Destiny”. This manifest destiny was rooted in the belief that America was
there for the Christian man to tame, and take ownership of. North America was there for man to mold into
what he (not she) believed would best reflect Christian values. Never mind that this westward expansion
or manifest destiny required the annihilation of most, and the colonization of the remaining non Christian
Native communities that were already thriving where they wanted to expand. This colonization required
once again in Gandhi’s words, “the systematic destruction of their ... relationship with nature. Stripping
people of their collective notion of self … a prelude to ... the process of colonization ... (which) goes on
today under the name of 'development' wherein success is measured by the criteria of Westernization."
The Black Ships that would posture within range of Japan’s coastline were merely another
example of this expansion of America’s A-W Manifest Destiny, only played out in Asia. Again my point
is not to vilify our A-W society, but to make my literary point by critiquing it. Japan and China too
were/are empires, which do much the same in Asia. This has been the legacy of many of humanities more
aggressive and intersecting imperial societies. I’m just addressing how the world’s present Abrahamic A-
W society is influencing my literary art form, ehi/haiku today.
So as I’ve illustrated, this Abrahamic viewpoint sees nature as a place apart from God, as an
untamed godless place where man was banished to, from the garden of eden. This historicist perspective
immediately imposes a maladaptive Abrahamic view of nature upon those of us indoctrinated into this A-W way of faith, thinking, believing, and creating. No matter whether we identify as A-W or not, if we're born and raised in the western world, or are in the eastern world and are heavily influenced by the west (few aren't), we must then contemplate simultaneously being open to a multiplicity of religious or spiritual ways or possibilities. Ways of thinking, being, or even believing, and creating, to write aligned with haiku's Dharmic artistic aesthetic. For those of us born and raised in a Dharmic based eastern world we have to continually work at not manifesting the naturally maladaptive world’s dominant A-W concepts of nature that can create dysfunctional tendencies in the way we interact, with nature. Being able to not just coexist but thrive within the intersectionality of divergent ways of being, with and in nature is something Basho, Saigyo, Issa, Buson, and Taneda did not face on the level we do today.( More recently poets like Thoreau Emerson, Whitman, and Wright poignantly addressed these issues of nature, via transcendentalism and ethnic nationalism. Still though, these more modern A-W poets (especially Robert Wright) wrote more senryu rather then haiku poems. In comparison to haiku, the others wrote more so in a verse, prose, or haibun style in regards to transcendentalism. They also wrote more so of imposing upon nature, rather than of equally being of or a part of nature.
Still regardless of the reason, on some level most all humans on the planet suffer from some level of discord in regards to their interactions with nature. In the end much like social justice issues, the symptoms, causes, and solutions/treatments for the continued decline of haiku are intersectional. Again these intersectional causes and symptoms result in large part from A-W and self colonization, as well as Abrahamic-maladaptiveness and Dharmic dysfunctionality in regards to our interactions with nature. As a
result of our natural western tendencies to impose upon haiku, mukigo is being manifested as the gentrified tool used to supplant haiku. So once mukigo is substituted for kigo a poem ceases to be a haiku,
and is assimilated into a senryu. This assimilation occurs regardless of whether kigo or nature is
referenced in conjunction with non saijiki manmade subjects in a senryu. Again I'm not making an argument for or against senryu or haiku. I am instead speaking to what I perceive as the how and why of haiku's proxy gentrification by today's A-W interpretation of titular haiku, which in reality is actually senryu.
Unifying intersectional discord within english haiku idioms
How we conceptualize the world dictates how we contextualize nature, our past, our present, and our future. Our literary frame of reference conceptually, dictates how we contextualize English haiku idioms (ehi). We will most likely never come to a uniform consensus as to what defines haiku, although we can become unified in acknowledging some of its key components like kigo and kireji. These key components can act as the common threads that unify and personify haiku, all without dictating a uniform definition of haiku.
I've written this essay in response to Mr. Wilson's essay "The Colonization of Japanese Haiku"
(simply haiku journal.com) My purpose in doing so is to engage the haiku community worldwide in a discussion. A discussion that speaks to haiku's past, present, and future. A discussion that focuses in on some of the intersecting issues brought forth in Mr. Wilson's essay. These intersectional issues are presently hampering haiku. I will put forth solutions that might contribute to rectifying these issues. I will also speak to what has caused the decline in the quality and misconception of what defines traditional/classical haiku today. Most significantly, I will speak to what the process of elevating the quality of haiku written today might look like.
Non-linear and intersectional issues concerning haiku
I will focus on five of the many issues that I believe are hampering haiku today. The first issue
is one also addressed in Mr. Wilson's essay. This issue is the colonization which enables the Anglo-West’s (A-W) titular reappropriation of haiku, which has somewhat gentrified haiku as an art form. The second issue is our dysfunctional and or maladaptive perception of nature. The third issue is the inability of many to differentiate senryu from haiku. The fourth and key issue stems from our sociocultural discomfort in acknowledging the essential role kigo plays in defining nature in traditional haiku. Accepting, acknowledging, and literally coexisting with, rather than merely tolerating the essence of haiku goes beyond the three F's of western sociocultural studies, folklore, food, & fashion. The fifth and final issue pertains to the sub vocal reading of haiku, at least initially.
I believe Mr. Wilson's essay conveys a well thought out overview of how and why haiku has been
declining since the Meiji Era. I concur entirely with the factors and issues Mr Wilson put forth in regards
to haiku's decline. His work prompted me to delve deeper into these five intersectional issues I've