Susan Shand


- Susan Shand about Basho -

source : www.geantreepress.com


ditties, doggerel and jingles

What counts as "good" haiku? One commentator in one of the newer bazaars today posted this...

"The use of the word 'hokku'
is ideological here in that its use is to distinguish serious short form poems as adapted by the poetic sensibilities of certain Japanese poets from the wide range of short ditties, doggerel and jingles spewed out in a constant stream from all manner of originators. [...] The public perception of haiku is that anyone can write one so that the art becomes a mere plaything that would never be taken as a serious form of poetry. The penetration of the word haiku, as I have just identified it, has become over time the default meaning of the word by the general populace. Using the word 'hokku' is a statement to the general populace that the poem being identified as such was written as a serious piece of creative writing bearing a discernible relationship with the poetic tradition exemplified in the best works of Basho, Chiyo-ni, Buson and Issa."
- Hansha Teki

This is rather like someone complaining that because the postings on Poetry.com are so appallingly bad we are, in future, going to distance ourselves from that by calling *our "good" poetry* by the new title "Sonnet".

Not only is this an "us and them" elitist group identification, (can I join your posh group please? I don't want to be thought to be a pleb or nuthin, innit?) but it is a completely unnecessary re-defining of words which are already in use under clear definitions.

Definition: A haiku is a short poem that uses imagistic language to convey the essence of an experience of nature or the season intuitively linked to the human condition." -- HSA[1]

Definition: A hokku is the first stanza of a linked-verse poem." -- HSA [1]

Anyone who has a problem with those definitions needs to address the defining authority or come up with a better definition which can be supported by consensus.

If there is a problem in the standard of work being posted in internet groups or published in journals then the solution to that problem is NOT to redefine the categories so as to make yourself look like a *real poet* and thus to make all the others look like idiots. We are ALL students! No one that I know of is an accredited Master in western haiku. Creating false categories will not improve your work or anyone elses. Anyone who writes haiku is free to post their work anywhere they like and free to submit to journals as they please. Anyone who wants to sit in judgement over the standard of work displayed would be wise to remember that we are all just where we are (and maybe one day their early work could come back to bite them on the derriere too) and we all have to learn somehow.

The solution of the problem of poor quality, is to teach. To help out the novice by seeking to improve their craft in appropriate ways. That is not to say that simply re-writing a poor example is going to help anyone. That too just makes you look like an 'expert' patronising a learner. Writing any genre of poetry, or indeed any art-form, requires the learning of the CRAFT of that form. Despite some of the exhibits in the Tate Modern which tend to suggest otherwise, enduring art is usually backed by skill as well as inspiration. The development of skill takes time and practice.

Personally, I welcome "all manner of originators" the more the merrier! - but I don't think I am better than anyone else just because I've been learning this skill for decades and they have been at it for ten minutes. I think that anyone CAN write one - then they learn how to write better ones. Art IS a plaything - and the more playful we can be the better the quality is likely to be. That haiku as a genre IS a serious form of poetry - but need not necessarily be approached with a serious demeanor. That the word "penetration" is a peculiarly Freudian slip which might benefit from a re-think.


(stardate 20130106)


The Big Banana

Who is Basho, what is he, that all the swains commend him?

You CAN write haiku without ever reading another haiku poet, just as you could write a sonnet without ever reading Shakespeare. However, no serious student of English Literature will NOT have read at least some of the English classics. Reading the work of classical haiku poets will immeasurably improve your own work, both in the breadth and scope, and in the craft. In addition, reading good modern poets, both Japanese and western, should give you a good balance of perspective.

We would be diminished as modern poets if we only ever read Shakespeare, and poetry.com is teeming with people who have never read any poets at all. The idea is not to glorify these writers, but to recognise their part in the canon of literature upon which we hope to build.

A note of caution, The translation of Japanese haiku into English is difficult, it often says more about the translator than it does about the original work. Check out a few different versions of anything that interests you.

So here are a few of my favourites...


Basho is the Big Banana of haiku, the cultural equivalent of Shakespeare. His work is varied and easily available in translation. It spans everything from the immediacy of a sudden exclamation; to the complicated interweaving of inference, literary references, dual readings, and puns.

"... he wrote about any subject that came along his daily experience, from the pissing horse (when sleeping at a pass called "pissing") to .. you name it, daily life in Edo Japan comes to live.
It is not all about the bees and the butterflies, far from it.
For Basho, all expressions of the human experience seemed to be fodder for his poetry."
-- Gabi Greve

There is a fairly comprehensive and informative history here http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Basho.aspx

and some comparative transations here


MORE by Susan
source : www.geantreepress.com

. Cultural Keywords used by Basho .