Slavko Sedlar, Takvost / Suchness (in print), translation: Saša Važić, proofreading and editing: Norman Darlington & Robert Wilson

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vladimir Devidé, Croatia

 

Haiku and Senryu in Sedlar's Collection Suchness

Slavko Sedlar was one of the first poets from the former Yugoslavia who began to write, publish and teach haiku, thus persistently spreading the knowledge about this poetic genre in our language. It's an interesting coincidence that Serbian haiku forerunner, the late Milan Tokin, was also from Vršac (his manuscript legacy was, much later, published by professor Aleksandar Nejgebauer of the University of Novi Sad).

When, some twenty years ago (1986), a great exhibition of Japanese art, Kyoto – the Japanese cultural blossom: from Kamakura to the Edo period (from the 13th to the 19th century) was held in Zagreb, one of its side performances was the first meeting of the most prominent Yugoslav haiku poets of that time. As well as Zvonko Petrović, Tomislav Maretić, Franjo Krizmanić (died in 1989), Igor Paro and myself, Slavko Sedlar also attended the meeting. Apart from Tomislav Maretić, among the above mentioned poets, it was only Slavko Sedlar who had not published a first-class haiku collection at that time, so this is an opportunity for one of our most deserving haijin, who embraced haiku at a time when there were not many who did so, to come out with one. At that time haiku was completely unknown among common people. At poetry gatherings it took more time to explain what haiku was than to read haiku poems.

The collection Suchness contains Sedlar's 253 haiku from the time when he started to write them, more than twenty years ago, up to 1988.

The very title of the collection is the translation of the Sanskrit term “tathatâ” (“tono mama” or “sono mama” in Japanese), an important concept in Buddhist and particularly Zen philosophy underlying haiku poetry. Therefore there are good and strong reasons for this term to be used as a title of this haiku collection, written in the best Japanese tradition, where this poetic form had been developing to reach its zenith in the 17th century, as created by the greatest Japanese haiku poet of all time, Matsuo Bashō.

Regarding form and technique, these haiku by Sedlar do not stray to a large degree from the strict classical Japanese 5-7-5 onji, which is the best solution where our language is concerned as there is no excuse for keeping strictly to 5-7-5 meter in western-language haiku because Japanese onji are not what our syllables are (if in some text we count Japanese onji and our syllables, there will regularly be more the former, sometimes even considerably more). Thematically, Sedlar's haiku strictly follow the Japanese classical pattern in the way they explicitly depict the experience of nature and the human being in it.

Among the haiku of Slavko Sedlar's collection Suchness we find fine examples of the following constructions typical of haiku poetry:

Haiku #7 is a successful example of transposition:

“Tombstones / forming troops into ranks – military graveyard“

Haiku #14 displays a fine perception:

“Shepherd dog and a boy / staring to the right / The dog with its ears too“

Haiku #17 is an example of a refined sensibility:

“Midnight over / The clock goes on tick, ticking / louder and louder“

Poem #24 is an excellent senryu:

“This wound will / heal, doctor – by the time/ my turn comes“

Haiku #32 makes use of transformation of the sound intensity and the distance it comes from:

“Morning roosters / more rarely and more distant / their voice is dawning“

Haiku #34 is an excellent image:

“Pink morning / rolling down the grassblade / in a globe of dew“

Haiku #38 is an ode to life:

“The young lime tree / lies broken. From the grass, / a green leaf sprouts“

Haiku #42 is probably the best in this collection. It was included in a great and authoritative Japanese anthology of world haiku poetry Four Seasons (1991) in English translation:

“During milking, / the cow’s tail chases away flies / from the milkmaid, too“

Haiku #54 exhibits a refined sensibility:

“Seeing me off, / it stays alone in the sky – / autumn moon“

Haiku #63 will remind us of the great Japanese master Issa:

“Don’t go away, / little sparrows – my road leads / nowhere any more“

Haiku #74 is undoubtedly of anthology merit, too:

“Banat village. . . / In front of every house – a bench / and sickle moon“

Haiku #76 exhibits a sophisticated allegoric sensibility:

“Country graveyard / The breeze lightly blows ashes / across the clay. . . “

Haiku #77 will remind us of the greatest haiku master of all times, Bashō:

“National Hero. . .” / Below the letters, the marble’s / a bit rusty“

Haiku #102 skillfully links seemingly separate perceptions:

“Watering roses / With the waterspout / the turtledove’s throat spreads“

Haiku #103 is a fine example of inversion:

“Indian summer. . . / The ant moving a sunbeam / on fine sand“

Haiku #106 is a good poem showing a humble acceptance, what R. H. Blyth refers to as a “thankful acceptance“:

“Snowberries / on low greenery? / I must kneel“

An interesting inversion between the cause and effect has been achieved in haiku #107:

“A row of poplars — / from the low skies sweeps / the snowstorm“

A successful example of transposition of audio and visual sensations is haiku #133:

“Corn picking. . . / How distant the talk is / beyond the fog“

Haiku #151 may remind us of Hiroshiji's color wood carving:

“Beyond the clouds / slanting sunbeams line / the far west“

An example of anthropomorphism of anthology merit is haiku #158:

“A small milk carton / in the wind, chases / a swallow’s shadow“

Haiku #181 may remind us of the last of the four great Japanese haijin, Masaoka Shiki, and his man who went off “playing the flute“:

“Ripe black rose grapes; / Turned back at dawn, a day / laborer goes off into the rain“

On the basis of all stated above, it can once again be concluded that Slavko Sedlar is a mature poet, excellent not only in our regions but one who can surely be accepted in the international haiku community, too. Therefore, I'd most warmly recommend this collection to be published bilingually, in our language and in English, so that haijin from other countries can have an opportunity to get to know this prominent haijin – excellent even when judged from the perspective of the strictest criteria of Japanese haiku poetry.

 

Nebojša Simin, Serbia

 

AN OPINION OF SLAVKO SEDLAR'S HAIKU COLLECTION

Slavko Sedlar's haiku are the light and conscience, warming his life from time to time. Seemingly, that life is bordered by objects and creatures, flowers, stars and the Moon. We read:

Seeing me off,
it stays alone in the sky –
autumn moon

In actuality, it is not real life, neither has it to do with objects or with creatures, but with eternity, which, according to some mutable law, impresses, from time to time, a sign in Sedlar's heart. All of this happens in those moments when the poet is ready to generously share the wisdom of life, acquired through the radiation of his innate desire, with those closest to him; not to keep it for himself. That's how the following haiku has come into being:

Banat village . . .
In front of every house –
a bench and sickle moon

That eternity, which will outlive us when we are gone, will appear the same, even if everything in the world changes. Those who come after us, will understand Sedlar in the same manner as we do now.

Slavko Sedlar will be a Poet when both he and we are no more in this existence. Such are his poems. What has maintained him at the very top of Serbian haiku poetry for decades, cannot be described by appraising qualifiers. In the autumnal, winter, spring and summer basket of Slavko's haiku there are both pungent and ripe ones. Both cold and warm ones. For every taste and for every occasion. If one tried to say anything more than this, it would be an inevitably poor attempt at rendition. Slavko's haiku should be read without the burden of casual comments. At dawn, one should randomly choose one haiku from the whole collection, and associate with it till the end of the day. And then to go to bed. To sleep soundly. And then again, one morning, to rise into the color of the sky, or into some scent awaiting for us from a dream, to repeat it all over again.

 

Đoko Stojičić, Serbia

                                  

A WIDE PERSPECTIVE OF TOPICS

In haiku poetry Slavko J. Sedlar finds a universal way of expressing his observations and views of the world around him and his experience of it. In his major collection SUCHNESS, he discovers an abundance of topics to reflect upon, and finds among them the ability to reach his characteristic expression and view of reality, within the scope of the strict, pre-determined expressive conditions of a poetry form, such as haiku. The poet has proceeded on the basis that the haiku form is appropriate for his poetic expression of all that is accessible to his presentiments, оbservations and resolution of the unclear within the endless space of reality. He has formed his own creative principle that everything is accessible to haiku poetry and that everything can be expressed poetically by means of its verses. For him, this was surely a stimulating challenge he has faithfully followed.

It is obvious that haiku poems referring to nature are the most successful and unique.  Nature itself is an inspiration to the author, giving him a creative impulse to find the resonant melody of a verse, a central poetic point which can be reached by seeking that invisible, innate interdependence of the elements of nature's beautiful contents. The magic of nature must enter the poet's inner creative act so that its image, in the brief form of haiku poetry, can be successful. That way the poet Sedlar transforms his delight over the Danube river into a poetic image which turns into a successful point: "Leafy willows /  downstream all the way to the sea  / drink the Danube."

In another example of the haiku poem we find an unusual interweaving of historical and lyrical components. Тhese are strong counterpoints, distant at first sight and yet united by the author's effort to reconcile them as the two sides of reality. In this way a wild strawberry and the hero's tomb may seem incompatible but the openness of haiku poetry gives way to the complex meaning and hypermeaning: "On the pedestal / a wild strawberry – / blooming beside the hero." The author couples the meager structure of haiku to the vision and reminiscence of his fate and the fate of his generation, realizing a bitter historical experience: "There where they / call a house charred ruins – / there lies my homeland." Here the burden of testimony rests on an unusual and rare word «горевина» ("charred ruins") which, in its density, carries an air of the dramatic past, of devastations, burnings, sufferings. "Горевина" – from "горети", with its association with fire – unpleasant scenes which may be read as a leitmotif of the whole of recent Serbian history. Beyond this single word roars an historical campaign –  days of drama are acknowledged. This wordis the bulwark of this small, firm haiku.

In many successful haiku poems, it is nature that will inspire the poet to reach the poetic ascents. He discovers the moon as a nocturnal traveling companion and, through a very unusual act, manages to intertwine his personal moment with memories of his distant ancestors: "Listening all alone / in the voice of a turtledove / the voice of my distant ancestors."

One of the most significant features of Sedlar's understanding of haiku poetry is his  conviction that the description of nature and its appearance in countless amazing forms are not enough; they can be used as a social leap into, say,  spaces of history. These might be  "Tombstones / forming troops" in a military graveyard but also, since it is about the town of Vršac, the famous Jovan  Sterija Popović with his doorway, his house and his jubilee.

The social topics present a thematic expansion of haiku narration but also a reason to express a bitter image of the time : "I've won a labor dispute"; "A beggar at the grave"; "А day laborer goes off into the rain." Many haiku poems about the eternal topic of art – old age -  are no less bitter. Those are sights, details, images of the last period of life, threatening and tragic. With their hyperrealistic tone, the poems about death are shaded even darker. Graveyards, crosses, hospitals, final departures, all of these are the author's specific topics bearing the reality of life as inevitable thematic spaces wherein the possibilities of haiku are expressed.

The author points out that the reality of life is not of the same hues; it is in fact in collisions, in the colorful images as is the construction crane which lifts a crow in spring but also a moment of poeticization when the child has fallen asleep in its book's embrace.

I recommend that the author leave out of the book those haiku poems that are not clear enough or those that are entirely prosaic, in order to contribute both to the quality and to the completeness of this book.

With the collection SUCHNESS Slavko J. Sedlar has reached and mastered the creative possibilities of haiku poetry and it is clear that he has accepted its challenges.

In his attempt at broadening the thematic scope of poetic expression in this magical verse called haiku, he has accomplished a creative output worthy of attention.

 

 

Translation: Saša Važić

Proofreading and editing: Norman Darlington

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