Vol. 10, No 17, Summer 2013
Vol. 9, No. 16, Summer 2012
Vol. 8, No. 15, Winter 2011
Vol. 8, No. 14, Summer 2011
Klaus-Dieter Wirth, Germany
The Haiku at the Crossroads?
After my active participation for about 25 years in the international haiku life I dare to take stock of what I have learnt by experience. Thinking back over all those fierce arguments about the traditional 5-7-5 syllable pattern, the influence of Zen, the rejection of the “I”, the acceptance of desk haiku, the discrimination of literary devices, such as personification, comparison, metaphor, or the problematic nature of more or less mere description, So-what? observations, or of a just three-part sentence, I come to the conclusion that things have changed much for the better, not least thanks to the easier interchange of ideas made possible by the rapid evolution of the Internet. We have witnessed an emancipation that helped a lot to widen our view well and truly beyond our nosetips. A fact that is quite characteristic of what has happened for instance in particular in German life. Well then, this is definitely the positive side of the coin!
Its other side, however, has turned out to be, in my opinion, extremely worrying. I do not even want to mention so-called spam haiku – its strength and lasting influence can simply not be argued away. One hopes that the normal reader will be able to distinguish between non-sensical or quite witty everyday garbage hitting out at topical events in politics and society. Oddly enough, its outpourings are nowadays easily recognizable by its strict compliance with the set syllable count!
What are the sources of danger then? First, an increasingly unjustified importance is attached to just crude realities giving readers the fatal impression that they are lacking common sense, a mark of undisguised contempt.
out of nowhere isn’t
a delay in large leaves
A road crosses a road another road does not.
Second, there is an ominous trend towards excessive brevity based, perhaps, on the belief: the shorter the result the better the standard of quality. Yet a telegram style will never be suited to meet any poetical requirements.
pissing the cats
Third, we have to deal with a penchant for forced originality. However, extremes do not at all correspond with the spirit of haiku which does search for the extraordinary but within the ordinary! As soon as even native speakers are forced to consult the dictionary, the case is likely to be more of a definite proof that the author only put on that famous jewelled ring in order to focus our view just on itself while diverting us from the essential. The same desire for individual admiration is most probably also revealed in obvious attempts to showcase formal extravagances. Yet pompousness, too, has nothing to do with the spirit of haiku!
body: wash fill empty repeat
S. B. Friedman
the rumble of earthworms
seeding the clouds
Fourth, a continuation in this quirk is resorting to plain surrealist contents, most presumably initiated by the “Flying Popes” of the Japanese Gendai Haiku movement, only too eagerly taken up by those restless representatives who leap on every new fashion. I do not at all deny that every now and then such an example may justify its very existence, yet only in a niche of course, and never ever as a trendsetter in the market itself!
I find a comb
left by a nymph
inside the mushroom
the canary builds its nest
of guns and ammo
Fifth, maybe a less alarming manifestation, though rather predominant is the almost arbitrary, mostly incomprehensible use of direct juxtaposition. No doubt, at first glance this method satisfies the need of caesura, so typical of the haiku, quite perfectly. But as soon as you have the feeling that you cannot do without the help of three psychologists to figure out some abstruse mental acrobatics, any enthusiasm for the genre will rapidly die down and turn to annoyance: no reader wants to realize that he is being made a fool of.
of scar tissue
Peggy Willis Lyles
sun on the horizon
picked up a stone
a man at the bus stop
could be Odin
All these examples have been taken from “Haiku 21 – an anthology of contemporary English-language haiku” edited by Lee Gurga & Scott Metz (Modern Haiku Press, Lincoln, Illinois USA 2011). We find here a mania for running smugly free in hallucinations. It’s a public nuisance.
As things stand it has to be feared that the dagger is already drawn to stab our beloved haiku in its prime. A dangerous development in two respects: Newcomers will of course only see the present state of affairs, and as English has become the basic language for international exchange the fatal effect will be multiplied. Looking for example at the German, Dutch, French, Spanish, Italian or Balkan haiku it has not been infected so far – for how long? We surely have to have a care for the general welfare of the genre!
First published in Blithe Spirit, journal of the British Haiku Society.
Republished by the author's permission.