Vol. 8, No. 14, Summer 2011
Robert D. Wilson, Philippines
Simply Haiku Winter 2011 issue's Featured Poet:
English-language haiku is more often than not lackluster, because many of its practitioners are confused as to what makes for good haiku. The majority of public school systems in English- speaking countries know little to nothing about haiku, their lack of scholarship glaring. The majority of on- and off-line haiku journals add to this confusion by wanting either to reinvent the wheel or to sculpt a genre into a mirror of their own poorly researched conceptualization of haiku. It seems the majority are unable to accept the fact that haiku is a Japanese genre, and as such, with genre specific rules.
Most of the haiku penned in what are improperly called Western countries, read like snippets from longer free verse imagist poems. Many are void of MA and utilize a meter not indigenous to haiku. Interestingly enough, some of the finest crafted English-language haiku are penned by poets from non-English speaking countries, who must translate their poetry into English in order to garner an audience outside of their countries since English has become the Esperanto for the world-wide haiku community. Perhaps their prowess in writing quality haiku can be attributed to a more clearly defined cultural memory.
One of these poets is the Serbian haiku poet, Slavko Sedlar, who, I'm sad to say, passed away a few months ago, at the end of October. I've selected five haiku gleamed from his 2010 book, Suchness 3, translated by Sasa Vazic. Each of the 5 haiku exemplifies the spirit of the genre, displaying respect for the rudiments that make up a haiku, irregardless of geographical and cultural origin. Because these are translations from a language different than English, meter cannot be adhered to. The interpreter, like Sedlar, is a Serbian. She meticulously translated each haiku into English, which entailed interpreting the mood and mindset imbedded in every poem, without hindering their metric schemata. Translation is an art form most take for granted and misunderstand. The disservice amateurs do to a minimalistic poetic form utilizing a concatenation of Japanese and Chinese aesthetics are blatant. One not fluent in a language should never translate poetry into that language using a foreign language dictionary. To do so makes a mockery of the art and bastardizes the poetry being translated. Sedlar's translator did an excellent job.
The following haiku is my favorite in Sedlar's book. It calls to mind the sentiment and poignance of the unsaid in Matsuo Basho's seminal haiku about the fruitlessness of a young soldier's dreams:
Crowded beach –
A solder sits, fenced in
by his uniform
На пуној плажи
Седи војник – ограђен
Summer grasses –
all that remains of great soldier's
tsuwamono domo ga
yume no ate
Translated by Sam Hamill
In Sedlar's equally poignant haiku, we are invited to look at a young man who, if not in his country's armed forces, would be at the same beach he is guarding, as sunbather, perhaps with a girlfriend or a group of buddies. The haiku's stark contrast between what could have been and what is, is emotionally charged; Sedlar's choice of words, use of the unsaid, and when to pause, utilized with the skill of a master craftsman to give us a novel inside a three line poem; the essence of a flower without painting one in detail.
There are no fences or barriers at the beach, except for the wall between the soldier and the world he used to enjoy as a carefree teenager: his uniform.
He is a soldier charged with guarding a war torn beach, wearing clothing unsuitable for recreation, including a helmet and a bullet proof vest. What is this young man thinking? What does his presence at the beach represent? A soldier's life is unlike any other's. He cannot relax, or let down his guard. He must be hyper vigilant, his senses operating at 200%. A soldier's body is not his own. It belongs to his country (the sacrificial lamb the politicians who start and stop wars don't send their children to fight). One moment he can be on duty and, in the next moment, if fate beckons, all that remains of him is a bloody heap of human tissue, blood, organ parts, and an emptiness filled with could have beens.
The following haiku composed by Sedlar brings us into another facet of a region where poverty and opulent wealth stand in contrast to one another like opposing armies.
Even while stealing apples
a boy would like to
Дечак би хтео
И одмор докле краде
Sometimes a thief isn't what he or she appears to be. The boy stealing apples may be doing so out of desperation, to help his family to ward off starvation. Without socialized distribution of food and medicine, people in Sedlar's country are at the mercy of the rich, powerful, and corrupt. The privileged go without worry while the common person is oftentimes a pawn in the privileged's crowd's palms. Not everything in the world conforms to Western conceptualization or is what it appears to be. Sedlar's prowess as a poet leaves us again with questions to answer, the answers decided by each reader's individual cultural memories and levels of experience. If life in a metaphysical sort of way were treated like a haiku: conceptualized and understood by individuals instead of herds, our world would be better off.
"Autumn flies . . ." Sometimes people are alone not by choice. Oftentimes people living alone (and not by choice) to survive, cannot afford the luxury of taking their surroundings for granted. A spider, a field mouse, or plant can be all that keeps a lonely person from succumbing to madness.
Autumn flies –
with whom will I drink coffee
С ким ћу у зимске дане
Да пијем кафу?
Poverty is a harsh taskmaster. When people are under-compensated for work done or unemployed, they cannot afford to see the latest movie, go on a road, etc. Stricken by boredom, many drink cheap alcohol or use drugs. Perhaps this is what Sedlar had in mind when he wrote the following poem; or, maybe he's writing about a joining of spirits, or a romantic interlude. A well- crafted haiku opens up several vistas for readers to explore. Depth and mystery (yugen) like the two drops sliding down the glass, is evident and well utilized by the poet's pen.
Summer's start –
after joining, two drops
slide down the glass
Спојивши се две капи
Клизе низ стакло
Contrast is a vital and underutilized tool. Called juxtaposition, it entails the merging of opposites to form an altogether different entity that is holistic and far reaching, as in this haiku by Sedlar:
Autumn manure –
has become a nest
Дедина винска преса
Serbian poet Slavko Sedlar's final farewell gift to the world is Suchness, and the world will be the better for it.
Republished from Simply Haiku by permission of the author.