Vol. 11, No 18, Spring 2014
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
Haiku in German-Speaking Countries
Germany's first contact with the haiku corresponded - as it looked like - to its former reputation as a country of “Dichter und Denker” (poets and thinkers), for it did not come about as in most other countries by scholars but by lyric writers. In this way we find the first independent examples of haiku about 1890, for instance, the following taken from the collection “Polymeter” composed by Paul Ernst in 1898:
A water lily
Peter Altenberg, Alfred Mombert and Arno Holz can be ascribed to the same group under the influence of impressionism. A second wave, around 20 years later, is due to the traditionally close literary connections with France when mainstream poets like Rainer Maria Rilke, Franz Blei, Ivan Goll and Klabund directed their attention to the haiku. Typically enough, in one of his analytical papers Ivan Goll called it “lyrical epigram”. To be honest, there had been as well some early translations of Japanese poetry dating back to 1894, when Karl Florenz published his “Dichtergrüße aus dem Osten” (“Poets' Greetings from the East”) or Paul Adler, in 1910, his enlarged translation of Michel Revon's widely-read “Anthologie de la littérature française”, further Hans Bethge, Paul Enderling, Julius Kurth and Otto Hauser. Yet the two world wars with the time of great political turmoil in between were of course not at all propitious for the promulgation of that newly discovered genre.
Anyway the second phase of German haiku life was marked by Austrian literati, by the Sinologist Anna von Rottauscher who, in 1939, published her anthology “Ihr gelben Chrysanthemen” (“You Yellow Chrysanthemums”) containing about 220 translations of classical Japanese haiku, and by Karl Kleinschmidt whose book “Der schmale Weg” (“The Narrow Path”) of 1953 comprised six different haiku sequences concerning their subject matters. Both authors, however, still disregarded the traditional 5-7-5 syllable pattern, often even exceeding the total of 17 syllables. On the other hand, haiku henceforth bore the hallmark of that poetry of nature and spirituality in the wake of German Romanticism.
The next crucial date was 1962, again connected with an Austrian author, Imma von Bodmershof and her book “Haiku”, for she was the first both to definitely realize the aesthetic potential of this peculiar Japanese form of short poetry and to deliberately transfer it into German literature. Thus she not only used the 5-7-5 pattern as a general structural basis but also the season word (kigo), the cutting word (kireji), and the reverberation with the reader or auditor (yoin) as constituent elements. Besides, she did no longer employ nature just in some stereotyped manner but considered it as quite a complex phenomenon of intrinsic value. Therefore we may call this second period the actual foundation phase of German haiku.
On the one hand, this Austrian authoress was hardly taken notice of by her contemporaries, on the other hand, soon after, in 1963, appeared two greater anthologies of Japanese haiku, one edited and translated by Gerolf Coudenhove entitled “Japanische Jahreszeiten” (“Japanese Seasons”), published in Zürich, Switzerland, and the other one by Jan Ulenbrook “Haiku – Japanische Dreizeiler” (“Haiku – Japanese Three-Liners”) published in Bremen, Germany. As a consequence, most Germans learnt to appreciate and possibly also to write haiku through reading just these books rendering the Japanese masters in a popular press style. Moreover, both editors were no real Japanologists, working mainly based on other translations, passing on in addition that pseudoromantic view of things. Nonetheless, they set the trend for others to follow!
Luckily enough, there were as well some loners to appear - though about 20 years later - who surprised the public with some daring experiments: in 1980, Michael Groißmeier presented his haiku book “Mit Schneemannsaugen” (“With the Eyes of a Snowman”), in 1982, “Haiku”, and in 1985, “Zerblas ich den Löwenzahn” (“Blowing Away Dandelions”) in German, English, and Japanese. Uli Becker published his post-modern volume of love haiku “Frollein Butterfly” in 1983 following the programmatic motto of the time ”Cross the Border - Close the Gap” not even eschewing pornography. And one year later, in 1984, H. C. Artmann - by the way another Austrian - incorporated haiku into his specific surreal and parodist way of writing. However, on the whole this third phase was tantamount to some standby mode.
The fourth period began in 1988 livening things up to a greater extent since it was the year of the foundation of the DHG (“Deutsche Haiku Gesellschaft”/”German Haiku Society”). But let me go back a bit here to show you how it grew into it during a rather curious phase that had started already in 1981 with the so-called “Senryû Centre” publishing as well a small official organ called “apropos” (“by the way”) which, however, survived only for about five years. Thereafter it lasted two more years until this forerunner organization definitely turned into the newborn DHG offering its own haiku magazine “Vierteljahresschrift der Deutschen Haiku-Gesellschaft” (“Quarterly of the DHG”). Remarkable in particular right from the beginning, great emphasis was placed on linked forms, such as renga, kasen (36 stanzas), hyakuin (100 stanzas), a tendency which culminated in the publication of “The Great Book of Senku Poetry” (1000 stanzas!) in 1992 with an astonishingly wide-ranged international participation, basing on a 12-year-long correspondence taken up and completed by professor Carl Heinz Kurz who unfortunately died soon after. The consequence was rather fatal to the society, for in this way Margret Buerschaper, his foster child, was to remain its president for no less than 15 years until 2003. She not only doggedly pursued a policy of strict adherence to the traditional rules, the observance of the 5-7-5 format, etc. - acceptable of course up to a certain degree – yet in terms of content she, too, continued to cultivate that dubious sweetish pseudoromantic view approaching even kitsch and excluding everything else condescendingly as senryû. Moreover, her management was accompanied by a policy of seclusion for fear of any negative influence from abroad. Like this, the level remained rather poor resembling more or less that of a tea party celebrating mainly itself. Anyway it should not go unmentioned that the DHG succeeded in making the haiku more popular while establishing a solid structure with regional groups, members' anthologies, competitions, and biannual meetings. Really international contacts, however, were minimized for lack of competence and to avoid any risk of endangering one's rigid principles. Correspondingly, one failed to go into a real study of any of the important international pioneering works by Henderson, Blyth, Yasuda, Keene, Higginson, van Tooren, etc. Nor did the DHG achieve any real exchange of ideas with the German Japanologists of the time, for instance, Horst Hammitzsch or Geza S. Dombrady.
Along these lines, it is hardly surprising that the unimaginative name of the journal “Quarterly of the DHG” was abandoned only in 2005 under the guidance of Martin Berner, the new chairman, an active member of the busy Frankfurt group led by the eager sogetsu-ikebana master Erika Schwalm. In the end, the board wisely opted for the significant new title of “Sommergras” (“Summer Grass”) signaling at last another era, the period of transition, the fifth phase from 2003 to 2009. Nevertheless, for the time being it was not easy to free up space against those practices, which had become a habit. Any attempt to relax the regulations could entail even a membership decline. Laudably the new chairman did not bounce back. He had already tried to establish international contacts before, mainly backed by the Frankfurt group. So he had represented the DHG on the occasion of the “First International Congress about the Contemporary Haiku” in Tokyo in 1999 convened by the Gendai Haiku Kyokai (“Modern Haiku Society”). The other panelists were Ban'ya Natsuishi (Japan), Stephen Gill (Great Britain), and Alain Kervern (France). The subject for discussion ran: “Haiku to Unite the Globe: Prospects for the 21st Century”. In 2002, the Frankfurt group had been invited again by the Gendai Haiku Kyokai, and in 2003 and 2005 it deputized the DHG with a small delegation at the 2nd and 3rd Congress of Ban'ya Natsuishi's newly founded WHA (“World Haiku Association”) in Nara (Japan) and Sofia (Bulgaria). But the highlight under the aegis of Martin Berner and his right-hand woman Erika Schwalm came about in the same year 2005 with the organization of the “First European Haiku Festival” in Bad Nauheim near Frankfurt on the Main with 61 participants from 17 countries. Mournful but true, Erika Schwalm died of cancer right in December. Meanwhile the cooperation with lecturers and scholars had also changed for the better, e.g., with Andreas Wittbrodt who edited “Tiefe des Augenblicks – Essays zur Poetik des deutschsprachigen Haiku” (“Depth of the Moment – Essays on the Poetics of the German-speaking Haiku”) in 2004 or professor Ekkehard May to whom we owe three outstanding publications: “Shômon I (2000), II (2002), III (2006) presenting not only the 10 wise men of Bashô’s disciples but also 13 literary grandchildren of his famous school. May, unlike Coudenhove and Ulenbrook, sought haiku’s beauty and truth through fidelity of translation consulting even Japanese experts. Anyway, when Martin Berner passed his function on to his successor Georges Hartmann and another younger board the door was wide open for a definitely better future.
A last necessary step was done. The new board elected in 2009 guaranteed absolute transparency, open-mindedness, changing anonymous adjudicators, etc. Last but not least, the free-style haiku was no longer discriminated. However, the pivotal factor for the volte-face had been - no doubt - the rapidly growing influence of the Internet, which so easily allows computer users around the world to enter into contact and exchange information. A special house for publishing haiku came into being, the Hamburger Haiku Verlag (E: email@example.com / H: www.haiku.de), offering on its own a whole scale of activities: workshops, forums, discussions, competitions, an archive of saijiki (“Catalogue of Season Words”), etc. Volker Friebel started his best-of-yearbook “haiku heute” (“haiku today”) also already in the year 2003 (H: www.Haiku-heute.de). New websites, blogspots, weblogs, chatrooms, forums sprang up like mushrooms to share haiku and communicate ideas. Adequately the DHG's official journal “Sommergras” now presents itself far more diversified, more substantial, really international. And the celebration of the society's 25th anniversary in 2013 was a brilliant proof of this new orientation. And as soon as 2007, the Austrian Dietmar Tauchner already showed the initiative to found the bilingual (German-English) Internet magazine “Chrysanthemum” (E: firstname.lastname@example.org), run since 2012 by Beate Conrad, Gerd Börner, and Klaus-Dieter Wirth. Impossible to enumerate all activities that have emerged ever since! The most important achievement, however, is the fact that the general atmosphere now appears quite relaxed and free of tensions, and the nonchalant interchange has improved the quality of German haiku quite visibly. Accordingly, the membership figure of the DHG has constantly gone up again being at present by 220. A promising development. At last!
As regards the haiku scene in Austria and Switzerland, there is not much to report separately. We have already met some Austrian names in the survey of the German history of haiku, but no Swiss ones, which is rather informative: Thus, there has been a group of pretty involved haiku authors in Austria for many years now, but only a few quite individual writers in Switzerland. Well then, for lack of a society of their own both parties first affiliated themselves to the DHG. The Austrian subgroup was led for a longer time by Friedrich Heller and then by Isolde Schäfer. People met about three times a year to read their texts and to discuss them. Especially the occasional presence of Professor Gottfried W. Stix proved to be a great asset to the meetings. Yet unfortunately, he died shortly before the present-day leader Petra Sela founded the ÖHG (“Österreichische Haiku Gesellschaft” / “Haiku Society of Austria”) in 2010. Previously there had been - on an average - 17 Austrians members of the DHG. After the foundation of their own society, this total was – quite understandable - cut in half. At the moment, the ÖHG numbers 37 members. Its new magazine is called “Lotosblüte” (“Lotus Flower”). However , already under the guidance of Isolde Schäfer the group regularly published hand-made anthologies. Its general orientation is rather traditional and a bit Zen-shaped, except for Dietmar Tauchner who is of quite another disposition. He is strikingly progressive, Gendai-oriented and has already gained considerable international reputation.
The medium number of Swiss members in the DHG fluctuates around 9. On the whole Swiss haiku devotees seem to be quite self-willed, obviously insusceptible to tie themselves down to any association as a recent survey has shown, a reassurance conducted by a Swiss colleague himself.