This is a blog of mostly haiku, in Japanese, composed and translated into English by me. I hope to provide you with not only a heavily nature-based aesthetic experience, but also a glimpse of Japanese culture, perhaps help and inspiration to those learning Japanese, a glimpse into traditional Japanese philosophy, and my own philosophy, some humor, and an occasional bit of Chinese poetry, culture, or philosophy.
I am non-Japanese, and Japanese is not my mother language. In fact, not only am I non-Japanese, I don’t even really care for poetry. At least my general reaction, if you were to buy me a book of poetry, or invite me to a poetry reading, would be one of, ‘NO THANK YOU!’
But the fact is, when I was very young, I happened to pick up a book of Chinese poetry, and found that very intriguing—probably the exotic imagery it inspired. And being an old hippy, I do dig beat poetry, and anything that is meant to be revolutionary. And surprisingly, Scottish poetry can be quite interesting with its occasional macabre or violent themes and a little suggested erotica in between.
Some time in my college days, shortly before, or shortly after, I started learning Japanese, I discovered a book on haiku, that started out with a lesson in how to appreciate this unique art form. What I discovered is that each of these short 17-syllable poems, is bursting over with multiple aesthetic experiences, subjectively derived, tied to nature, and often very deep in meaning. Sometimes haiku can be so deep as to almost rip at the veil that separates physical reality from that more deeper and profound reality that underlies all existence.
Haiku is a Japanese art form, and is therefore created from a natural structure of Japanese language. Many poets like to compose haiku in English and other languages, and I have occasionally seen a good English haiku–but generally I do not read much English haiku. Some of it is too contrived and, non-Japanese often do not stick to the basic rules, and so I don’t really get into it.
HOW TO READ HAIKU
Haiku is meant to be enjoyed like a fine wine. In other words, you mull it over, enjoying all of its different nuances and implications. A really good haiku should give you a kind of, ‘ah Ha!’ experience. Often times that experience will pop right out at you. But to really enjoy haiku, one should not just read it, and then move on–rather it should be experienced: read and then repeated, feeling the different images and ideas it beings to mind. Reading haiku is extremely subjective (and is therefore an ideal Post-Modernistic art form) it provides you with an experience and a season, and you create the picture and all the rest yourself. In fact, by mulling it over, you may create many pictures, and even discover hidden meanings, within the motifs.
Every haiku is tied to a season. The season is indicated by a season word (kigo in Japanese). A season word could be an animal, for example crickets or other noisy insects would right away make one think of summer. It could be tied to weather, snow for example, would immediately make one think of winter, unless it was a Spring Snow, in which case one would think of Spring. It could be an object, or a seasonal event, holiday, or activity. Christmas, for example, would make one think of… what was that season again?
Japanese grammatically makes use of post particles and other structures that English does not have. In haiku, a phrase will often end with the words, ya, or. Kana. These put stress on that phrase, like an exclamation point. There is a famous haiku that starts with furu ike ya, which could be translated as, ‘The old pond!’ or, ‘Ah! The old pond.’
There is a special type of haiku called Senryu. It is a satirical haiku, which makes a joke of something. It doesn’t always follow the rules—for example, it may not include a seasonal word. I will post a fair amount of senryu, but humor often has a deeper serious side, and as I will explain, my senryu, has a variety of deeper levels, which point to the pathos of life.
I will also throw in a few Tanka as well as haiku. These are an old form of poetry that use 31 syllables instead of 17.
FOR THOSE LEARNING JAPANESE
I hope my haiku inspires you to, and helps you to, use read and compose haiku to assist in your learning the Japanese language. Learning a language, and especially getting to that point where you can really think in that language, requires experiencing the language. What better way is there to ‘experience’ Japanese than to experience it aesthetically through creating your own haiku, and enjoying the haiku of others. The grammar and structure can be a bit archaic sometimes. But it is not hard to get used to.
Then you might find, like myself, that there are haiku which you understand in Japanese but are hard to put exactly into English.
On the other hand, you might think, What? Me write haiku in Japanese? I’ll be laughed at!!! Well—-the next part is for you…
HOW CAN A FOREIGNER WRITE HAIKU?
I think Japanese haiku is a great way to aesthetically express oneself even for a non-native speaker. A native speaker who composes haiku might find a non-native speaker’s poem’s to be odd, or poorly composed, or bad haiku in that it is too narrative or has an extra consonant, or is overly heavy on seasonal words, etc, etc, etc. I know that my own haiku can be bad, I don’t pretend to be a master haiku composer, and after all Japanese is not my mother tongue. On the other hand, there are plenty of native speakers who compose haiku without really knowing much about it, and that could be artistically worse than yours or mine if we follow the rules of haiku aesthetics. And the fact is that even Japanese who make a hobby of composing haiku produce a lot of poor haiku themselves—which can be endlessly debated and improved upon and so forth.
Today’s Japanese, influenced by the massive thrust to industrialization during the Meiji Era, along with overly objectivistic Confucian Ethics imported from China, have a problem of over-rationalizing everything, including haiku. Haiku is of the heart, not of the mind. While I know that I write bad haiku, I also know that I write those that are good. A number of years ago I entered a haiku contest through one of the big temples in Japan. The real purpose was to help people with their haiku. The priest, a recognized expert in haiku, would critique the haiku and provide an alternative. I won that particular contest with the priest saying, “Of all the many haiku I read each month, this one really stood out. This one embodies the spirit of haiku. Because of the katakana non-Japanese name, I assume this is from a foreigner which is also surprising. Very good.”
You must also remember that, as a foreigner, a Japanese person already expects your haiku to be flawed. Many Japanese understand their language to be extremely difficult for a foreigner to master (I would say there are plenty of languages far more difficult, and that once you get used to the differences Japanese is actually not that difficult to master). The implication of this is that, 1.) Some Japanese will be overly complimentary, and praise even poor crude attempts, and overlook mistakes; 2.) Other Japanese will be overly critical and fail to see the value and aesthetic qualities of the haiku.
If you can compose haiku, which you can aesthetically mull over and produce an artistic, or even spiritual experience, especially in multiple subjective ways, then you are successfully creating haiku for yourself. If you can enjoy it, then who cares what someone else filled with opinions (and probably lacking in ability) thinks. Now if others can gain their own subjective experiences from your creation, then you are creating something really worthwhile.
Some of my haiku, I fear may be overly descriptive in Japanese, or may be too heavy on seasonal words, but translated into English, I like it—so there again—is it bad?
This blog originally started as a joke on an internet forum this past January (2013). I followed up the joke with some haiku, and people liked it. I soon added some more haiku, and people really dug it. More and more people started following it, so after several months—-here it is, a blog of haiku.