Vol. 8, No. 15, Winter 2011
Vol. 8, No. 14, Summer 2011
$10/ 1000 yen
A review by Robert D. Wilson
In a day and age when haiku is anything but, it is a treat when poet Ikumi Yoshimura publishes a book of her haiku. Most of what I read today labeled haiku is lackluster, non-memorable, as evidenced by a haiku poet's inability to sell more than a few hundred copies of their books, most of them sold to friends and relatives. Face it, haiku is not popular in the mainstream literary world nor has it kindled a fire in the hearts of our planet's young people. Why is this?
Perhaps if haiku penned by Yoshimura were to dance before the eyes of those outside the circle of contented mirrors, this could change.
Yoshimura composes haiku that respects tradition while forging freshness harvested from a cultural memory seasoned with dashi and the experiential. When I stop reading her haiku, they follow me throughout the day, like bedfellows, hangers on, even a nemesis or two, refusing to let go, persistent, whispering, singing, shouting: come back, explore, see below the surface where nature and humankind inhabit a continuum of becoming, objects, earrings dangling from ears that seduce the unspoken.
The first haiku in Yoshimura's new book, paper plane, appears at first to be a descriptive statement, nothing more. As I reread this haiku, as her poetry insists that I do, I saw the influence of Matsuo Bashō, where the poet contrasts the high and the low to bring to the surface a surplus of words: new mown mugwort juxtaposed with a kitchen before cooking.
Mugwort is a subtle yet odiferous herb used by those in indigenous tribes to induce dreams, sewing the leaves inside small handcrafted pillows. A kitchen is for cooking. Meals are prepared, the scents emitted during cooking pre-eminent, the star attraction so to speak, waiting for its entrance. In Yoshimura's haiku, nature is the debutante, reminding readers of nature's unending transformative powers, beauty, and refusal to be overshadowed by the finite. The scent of mugwort becomes a dream catcher.
new mown mugwort
scents the whole kitchen
karitate no yomogiba kaoru kuriya kana
Yoshimura knows the value of contrasting in her poetry, utilizing this aesthetic style to paint deeper meaning into a poem with a pallet of limited colors (words) as evident in her skilled juxtaposition of "my daughter and I are feminine" with "wisteria bloom".
both my daughter and I
are feminine . . .
ko mo ware mo nyoshō de arishi fuji no hana
Why does Yoshimura contrast femininity with wisteria bloom? Why not a different floral bloom? What is the significance of the wisteria in her haiku? Is the wisteria just a plant or does it have a deeper history in Japan's cultural landscape? Hers is a poetry we can learn from. Were there more depth in today's haiku perhaps those in the mainstream literary world would take greater notice. Fluffs and puffs are a dime a dozen, and like a cheap dessert, non-memorable. Intelligent people crave depth, admire skilled artistry, and hunger for a fresh voice.
The majority of Ikumi Yoshimura's haiku are activity-based haiku and not word pictures using kigo or place words to illustrate said paintings. They breathe, they converse, they are fresh, some laugh and cry. And thank God the poet understands the difference between a senryu and a haiku, something too few poets understand today, opting instead for a conglomerate porridge of words.
Some samples from Ikumi Yoshimura's book, paper planes, to savor until you purchase a copy of your own:
with my date
I become the gull
ano hito to kamome ni naru ya natsu no hama
are swaying through
the bamboo blind
hitokage mo yuruku yurai de sudaregoshi
eating an apple
like a girl . . .
the day moon
ringo hamu shōjo no yōna hiru no tsuki
winter sky . . .
hymns echoing through
the onion dome
fuyuzora ya sanbika hibiku maruyane ni
Republished from Simply Haiku, Summer 2012, with the author's permission.