Ami Kaye Interviews Jane Reichhold
Ami—Jane, we’re pleased to welcome you for this issue, especially as we are presenting a Japanese short forms section for this issue. Can you begin by telling me how your interest in Japanese short forms first started and how this interest developed over the years that followed?
Jane—First of all I want to thank you for this opportunity. For too long poets writing in other genres have not understood Japanese poetry and there are many false or wrong ideas about haiku that are popular with the result that poets are unable, or unwilling, to learn the new ideas and methods of writing in Japanese poetry. I thank you and your readers for the chance to clear up some of the mysteries and to show how valuable understanding Japanese poetry principles can be for work in any language or any genre.
I first discovered haiku in 1967 by reading a Peter Pauper book, Haiku Harvest, translated by Peter Beilenson and Harry Behn in 1962. I was leery about the shortness of the poems, because I had been writing much longer free-verse, but the transfiguring moment came to me when I realized I could experience something like the Old Masters of Japan were describing in their haiku.
I was a potter at the time and to try out a newly-made kick wheel I was throwing pots outdoors. Just at the moment when my thumb and fingers began to draw the clay upwards, a mockingbird sang a trill. I felt as if it was the bird’s sound that made the clay rise up into a vessel. I instinctively felt this was the kind of experience should be preserved in a haiku. At that time, following the example in the book, I wrote my haiku using 5, 7, 5 syllables. And I thought I was the only non-Japanese writing in the form. I firmly believed that only the Japanese could write a haiku.
I few years later I moved to Germany and I continued to write what I called ‘haiku’ and shared them with my daughter. One day, while at the village dentist, I met Sabine Sommerkamp who was interning as an assistant to earn money to travel to the USA to meet haiku writers. From her I learned that there were several groups in the States as well as such well-known poets as Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg who were writing haiku in English. Sabine and I discovered we lived only blocks apart and I began to learn from her while she wrote her doctorate on the subject and she later headed the feature for haiku in the magazine Apropos. Within a year Werner and I had begun living back in the States part-time and it was easier to meet with other haiku writers, to find the books they were reading and writing, and to subscribe to magazines here.
Ami—Experts have different opinions on what constitutes the various short forms and their definitions. Can you clarify some of the more common Japanese short forms for our readers who might tend to think of them as too esoteric? Our hope is to broaden the base of readers and writers to facilitate the enjoyment and exchange of many different forms such as pantoums, sonnets, villanelles and ghazals which have always been part of the poetic repertoire, but which have recently seen an upsurge in popularity.
Jane—I think that part of the resurgence of interest in form-poetry is due to a certain fatigue of free-verse poetry. People want to write successful poems and sometimes that can seem easier if there is a form to follow. A form will not guarantee success, but I can say that the study of form for making poetry is most interesting. While there is very much to learn about the various Asian forms, for me, the idea of using images and linkage, association and contrast, and the opportunities of simply juxtaposing images far outweigh actual form definition.
Since the forms are different, and the way material is handled in each of them, a conscious poet needs to know the difference between them in order to choose the best one as vehicle for the inspiration on its trip into the reader’s mind. Actually here is enough material for a semester’s work but I will attempt to give some brief descriptions of the ones I know best.
Tanka (TAHN-KAH; not tank-kah) is the oldest poetry form still in active use. The Japanese used the form before they began to write (ca 700 C.E.). One of their oldest short poems was supposedly spoken by Susano-o no mikoto, the elder brother of the divine Amateru. As he was building his palace on the island of Izumo, he saw what probably was a cumulus cloud over the spot:
sono yaegaki o
many-layered cloud builder
Izumo’s many fences
to enclose a wife
setting up many fences
ah, these many fences
Tanka, at that time, in honor of this poem, was called yakumo (YAH-COO-MOE) – many-layered cloud –which is very fitting for a poem form that builds images on images much like billowing clouds. The form has also been called uta (yOU-TAH) – song – and waka (WAH-KAH) which later came to be used for all the Japanese genres because at that time wa = Japanese and ka = poetry to differentiate it from the Chinese poetry being read and imitated. Then the term tanka – short poem or elegance –was given to indicate just this one poem form out of the many other forms and is the most common except the Imperial Court still uses the older term of waka.
Under either term, the form is still a major factor in the poetry of the Imperial Court as well as commoners far and wide, and outside of Japan. In Japanese the tanka has the kana or sound unit count of 5, 7, 5, 7, 7. If the first part is recognizable as perhaps being a haiku (HIGH-COO) you are right because the haiku has evolved from the first three lines (understand phrases or parts) of the tanka just over 400 years ago. The tanka is different from the haiku because it is (usually) more subjective – about the author’s feelings or opinions – and the haiku is more objective – an image as the result of the senses without filtering. Thus it has been said that haiku are “male” and tanka are “female.” While both forms are written by both genders, it is true that the most famous Japanese tanka writers are and were the women. While more haiku are written by women in English, the men tend to dominate the scene.
To continue to compare the forms one can say the haiku should be about one point in time while in a tanka there should be switch in either time, place or speaker between the upper (5,7,5 units) and lower (7,7 units) parts.
I strongly believe that the tanka in English should not be a sentence but show evidence of that switch or twist in voice, place, person, or mood and that when possible a pivot should be employed between them. Just today we worked on this poem from Akiko Yosano:
emishi kinoo no
naki ni shimo arazu
after the bath
I dress myself smiling
in the long mirror
a portrait of yesterday
one cannot deny
Here you can clearly see how the image of a mirror is used to look at the present and the past. In addition, Akiko adds her opinion as another way of viewing her image in the mirror and to add a subjective element to the poem.
At about the turn of the first millennium (1000 C.E.) these two parts of the tanka were first written by two people called tan renga (TAHN REIN-GAH).
The first tan renga as is listed in the Man-yoshu (ca 1183) is this exchange between a nun serving wine to ōtomo no Yakamochi (one of the compilers of the Man-yoshu). She said:
mizu o sekiagete
ueshi ta o
the river of Sao
with its waters damned
he planted the field
Then Yakamochi, rose to this challenge and replied:
karu wasaii wa
its first harvest of young rice
will be his alone to taste
Soon it became fashionable to combine these short collaborative poems into sets of 100, 1000 or even 10,000. It was Basho (BAH-SHOW; not BASH-O) who shortened the 100-link renga to 36 (so they could get the poem done in one evening) which is called the kasen (KAY-SEN) renga in honor of the kasen – 36 Immortal Poets. After Basho’s death there was an attempt to divert his influence (because he had been granted sainthood by the court and the reigning religious order) by changing the name of the form to renku (REIN-COO).
In English we were introduced to the haikai no renga form as “renga” and have used that word because we have no English equivalent (it means linked elegance). However renku can be easily translated into ren=linked; ku=verse so if one wants to refer to a linked poem one can use either renga (written in the traditional styles or according to the precepts Basho used) or linked verse for modern or variants in style, technique and linkage. In recent years there has been a rash of people inventing shorter or narrowed options forms of linked poetry under various spurious Japanese terminology.
All Japanese poetry is based on sets of five or seven sound units and there are several other combinations that are currently far less popular. There is the sedoka (SEE-DOH-KAH) – double head – which was used as a teaching device by asking and answering a question in the 5, 7,7, 5, 7,7, pattern. In most of the contemporary sedoka the riddle aspect has almost disappeared as is shown in this poem found on the web at http://www.voicesnet.org
Snow globe collection;
Clusters atop aged dresser,
Overlooking Tuscan view.
Soon waiting to be upturned,
Abandoned covered in dust.
By Ros Shrapnel
Thinking about this old form nudged me to try this:
the listening wind
turns to blow sea clouds
into a rain of white flowers
as the answer to prayers
waving on short stems
The choka (CHOO-KAH) or nagauta (NAH-GAH-yOU-TAH) – long poem or long song – was a poem form capable of various lengths by the repetition of sets of five or seven sound units which traditionally closed with a couplet composed of 7 + 7 sound units and often has a tanka tacked on the end as envoy. I know of one poet in Japan, Mutsuo Shikuya, still writing in this form whose work has been published in English in Lynx.
The katauta (KAH-TAH- yOU-TAH) – model song – uses the 5, 7, 7 pattern and the bussokusekika (a form so obscure I will not attempt a translation of the ancient name) has the 5, 7, 5, 7, 7, 7 pattern. There is also the kyoka (KEY-O-KAH), supposedly funny tanka written in exactly the same tanka form and in last 50 years the Gogyohka (GO-GEE-OH-KAH) which is a sentence broken into five lines without any attributes of the tanka From this you can see that the Japanese have tried almost every variation of this combination.
In addition to classical Japanese poetical literature, there is haiga (HIGH-GAH) in which a haiku is combined with a drawing and haibun (HIGH-BUN) in which prose and a haiku are combined. Both of these terms are posing problems for English users since our penchant for experimenting has brought about drawings and photographs combined with tanka as well as prose pieces and tanka. The attempts to find Japanese names for English efforts is, again, creating some very strange words. Both genres are so popular a search of web sites will reveal several excellent places for anyone to study and practice.
In Lynx, the online magazine Werner and I co-edit, we also publish ghazals (GAZE-AL) or as a few insist (GUZZEL) because the form uses a combination of Arabic-Asian methods of linkage with greater emphasis on parallelism – one of the oldest poetry devices. Traditionally the ghazal uses rhymes or repeats at the ends of the couplets along with several other unique poetical devices such as the sher, radif, and makta so it is a poetry form worth studying on its own.
Here is a translation of one of the poems by Hafiz’s or Hāfez (1325/26–1389/90 ) as in The Green Sea of Heaven translated byElizabeth T. Gray, Jr., and published by White Cloud Press, 1995. Most translators do not bother to show the repeats in the ghazal, but in this one she does.
One rose from the world’s garden is enough for us.
In the field, the shade of that flowing cypress is enough for us.
May I never be intimate with hypocrites.
Of the world’s weighty things, a heavy cup is enough for us.
For good deeds they grant you the palace of paradise.
We rends and paupers, the Magi’s cloister is enough for us.
Sit by the stream’s edge and watch life pass by,
for this sign from a passing world is enough for us.
See the cash in the world’s bazaar, the world’s torments.
If not enough for you, this profit and loss is enough for us.
The friend is with us. Why would we look further?
Intimacy with that soul-companion is enough for us.
I am here at your door, for God’s sake don’t send me to heaven,
for in all the universe the head of your alleyway is enough for us.
Hafiz, it is unjust to complain about the wellspring of your fate.
A nature like water and flowing ghazals are enough for us.
I would suggest visiting Gene Doty’s “The Ghazal Page” (http://www.ghazalpage.net/) for much more information on the ghazal as well as postings of contemporary ghazals on a monthly basis. Here is one of my ghazals exploring a new use of the repeat as it occurs in English:
lost in the space of her; wonderment borders the walls
of adobe and sandstone cliffs holding back the herd
soaring above the morning light, the way local color descends
from the sky, the daily worship of miracles in stones hereabout
paint is attracted to paper by the journey of an unfettered mind
the vice is vibrant but, thank god, not completely hereditary
the gospel according to women who spread their soft legs
bumps against the continued male hardness of church heresy
secret rites the heritage of helix twined beads' intensity
where the spaces in between conceal information hermitic
lifting humanity up to higher goals as the squalling newborn
wails in protest to incoming air; the pulled-out strain of a hernia
does the girl child dedicate a page of destiny to the guardians
manifest in fleshless bones to become the age's own hero
The sijo (SHE-JOE or SEE-JOE) is the Korean form somewhat similar to the tanka. In sijo the three lines average 14-16 syllables, for a total of 44-46 syllables. The theme is set in the first line, then comes the elaboration with the counter-theme and ending with a completion or solution in the third.
My favorite sijo is:
You ask how many friends I have? Water and stone, bamboo and pine.
The moon rising over the eastern hill is a joyful comrade.
Besides these five companions, what other pleasure should I ask?
...Yon Son-do (1587-1671)
Ami –The haiku with its philosophical core and eastern ambience is difficult to pin down. Somewhere deep inside its miniscule form, lives something mysterious and inexplicable. Language becomes fluid in a haiku, and reaches out intuitively to our senses without translation from the intellect—it depends as much on the silences of what is left unsaid as it does on the words carrying the images. For all good writing, good reading is necessary. I am sure, like the rest of us, you have seen a number of questionable pieces that pass for haiku, so please tell us how to recognize a good haiku when we read it.
Jane—I feel that if a haiku informs and delights you, then it is a good one for you. We all have different criteria, experiences, our little rules, and expectations. One haiku cannot fill all those possibilities for everyone. I find the idea that a judge can find “the best” haiku out of a collection to be ludicrous. Many haiku can delight at many levels. A judge only picks the haiku that appeal to him because of his interests, prejudices, and expectations for his own work or to reinforce his idea of what the genre should be.
I don’t think the striving for a good haiku is a worthy goal. In fact there are times I can see haiku almost as a ‘throw-away by-product.’ The most important aspect of haiku is the way you must live in order to write haiku. If you live being aware of your senses, trusting them instead of your mind, being non-judgmental, being open to everything and everyone, reverent, accepting yourself and others as not perfect but just what is in this one precious moment of time and rejoicing in life and living it to the fullest – this is your poetry.
However, since I see haiku as gifts from some higher or better entity that is in touch with me, I treasure them, take care of them, attempt to keep them alive and glorious as they were in the beginning, share them with others and to read again in the moments when the sun goes down to remember the shine.
In addition, haiku can teach the writer a great deal about the use of words, images and ideas and their transmission. Haiku not only teach us how to be inspired, how to make important connections between ourselves and our environment, but also how to give our visions the best possible words. This involves writing skills which are different than we are used to using in English poetry, and thus a degree of study and learning and practicing is needed. And here haiku, because they are short, are excellent material to practice on when exploring new ways to use words for images.
Ami—While the metaphor has long held a pivotal role in mainstream poetry, I understand its use in haiku is considered taboo. However, I recently read an excellent article you wrote where you posited that Basho himself used metaphor in haiku. Can you elaborate on that?
Jane—You are right. In the beginning we were taught that haiku did not use metaphor. But this misconception was the result of translators, who were not poets, and therefore unable to recognize the different methods the Japanese use to create their metaphors. In Western poetry we are used to having our metaphors served to us in the bowls of certain techniques. Homer’s “wine-dark seas” (the dish is the hyphen) or “my love is like the red, red rose” (the gravy boat may be the words ‘like’ or ‘as’ in which case we call them similes), but they are using the metaphor technique of explaining an idea or image for which there is not an exact word by spooning it up with a known image or idea as I have done here with a heavy hand.
The Japanese form their metaphors by linkage. By placing one image next to another, in juxtaposition we might say, in the reader’s mind, these personal mental pictures will color each other, blend, inform, and light up with emotion. Another way to think of this technique is to call it layering when the linkage is very close as in Basho’s
karasu no tomari keri
aki no kure
on a bare branch
a crow settled down
The bare branch and the crow are metaphors for autumn, as is evening for the Japanese. The way a crow lands, or settles down on a branch is similar to the way darkness comes in autumn: suddenly, heavily, harsh, black, ominous. One can carry the pictures to imagining the claws with sharp nails squeezing the poor bare branch. However, the calmness, the simplicity, the way the images are called forth in the reader’s by haiku, is very different from the way this moment would normally be described using Western literary devices.
The Japanese have further informed the use of the metaphor by codifying the many methods and techniques of linkage, most clearly seen in renga, which is material enough for several lectures. Reading Miner and Brower’s The Monkey’s Straw Raincoat is a good place to start.
Due to Buddhist influence in the concept “all is one” every thing is related or can be linked to everything else. Part of the function of poetry is to discover how and when various things relate and to show this to others so they too can enjoy it.
This is truly an incredible discovery and deserves much more explanation that I feel I can give you here. My article is online (ahapoetry.com/h_t_metaphor.html) and it is, I hope, much deeper and therefore, clearer.
Ami— What is the difference between a senryu and a haiku?
Jane— In Japanese a haiku and a senryu (SEN-REE-YOU) are very different genres of poetry but in English and other languages, these differences have dropped away. In Japanese a senryu:
1. has no season word – kigo – or required reference to the realm of nature
2. refers instead to the realm of humans and human nature
3. does it with a satirical or demeaning sneer meant to be humorous
4. that in the beginning (the 1600s) was used to demean women and wives
5. is not signed with the person’s real name.
In English we blurred the distinctions by not making the use of a season word mandatory, we loved to include humanity in our haiku, we already use a broader sense of humor than the Japanese have, and love to sign our work with our real names.
However, the term senryu was also misused in the early adoption practices of haiku. Then it meant:
1. a pejorative term used by a critic for
2. a failed haiku or one that did not measure up to the standards of that person
3. or any haiku that contained a reference to humanity
4. or a haiku with a joke in it.
This caused problems because many Japanese haiku, labeled as such, do refer to human affairs. The term senryu is still used by some to label a humorous or funny verse in English which is unnecessary since haiku can be funny – in fact part of the word ‘hai’ can also mean “funny” or “crippled.” Haiku can be erotic and contain sexual innuendoes, as some of Basho’s did, but he drew the line at cruel or demeaning images. Senryu can be so dirty, low, or inflammatory that no one will publish them.
Also it is difficult for us to determine, and define, the difference in ‘tone’ between a haiku and a senryu, which the Japanese can do so easily. For us it would be like understanding the difference in tone between a sonnet and a limerick but our experiences with haiku are as yet too limited.
Since, for me, the senryu has the negative image of being a ‘bad haiku,’ originally and yet today can be used to demean women and their sexuality, and the fact we do not need to distinguish between haiku about nature-nature and human-nature, I feel we really do not need to use the term senryu for poems not written in Japanese. Haiku is the name for the form; senryu is a subtitle for a subgenre in the very same form.
Ami—What is your stance on titles, punctuation, and capitalizations in haiku?
Jane— First of all, a haiku is not a sentence and therefore, I feel, does not need the attributes one gives an English sentence. A haiku is composed of two sentence parts. One I call the “fragment” – the short line that is complete in itself. An example would be the line: “old pond.” The second part – the phrase – consists of two lines and is grammatically tied together. The phrase in Basho’s famous frog haiku is:
a frog jumps into
In the Japanese the poem reads as: “furu ike ya / kawazu tobikomu / mizu no oto.” The ya at the end of the first line is a kureji (COO-RAY-GEE)– cutting word – which indicates a break or what in English could be a dash so the poem could not be read as “old pond / the frog jumps into”
The middle line is separate and it cannot stand alone and needs the third line for completion. It is easy to see that this is not a sentence. Not every newcomer to haiku understands this but if they have read enough translations where this principle is followed they may automatically and accidentally imitate the proper construction. Otherwise it needs to be explained.
But there are other reasons for dropping English typesetting methods in the use of caps and punctuation. In the Japanese language they did not have or use a system of capitalization. Basically the lower case was enough. Also since a haiku should be simple, it seems to me to be simpler to leave off capital letters.
The situation with punctuation is a bit grayer. The Japanese, when reciting a haiku, speak the punctuation as you saw above in the ‘old pond’ haiku having “ya” at the end of the first line – furu ike ya. This would be as if we said, “old pond dash” which could be very disturbing simply because we are not used to it. Because it is a part of their language, they tend to accept it. Also, as for us, their various punctuation marks carry information about emotion in the same way we understand the difference in feelings between an exclamation point and a question mark.
Not all Japanese haiku have these punctuation-like words and I found in translating Basho’s work that he mostly used them when it was necessary to show the break between the fragment and the phrase. When the break was clear grammatically, he did not use them. However, if his line needed a sound unit or two he would add the kireji – cutting word – merely to fill up the count for the line.
In English we have an additional reason for not employing punctuation. We can give our poem some ambiguity, and offer more possibilities if we leave it unpunctuated. Example:
stone by stone
the moon goes with us
to the beach
The phrase can be either “stone by stone the moon goes with us” or “the moon goes with us to the beach.” Each phrase calls up a different image. If I put a dash after my line “stone by stone” it would reduce the poem by one possible reading. Often people will add punctuation – dashes or semi-colons – when they fail to express the two parts clearly with the grammar. For me, looking at my own poems, if I feel the poem needs punctuation to differentiate the parts, then I believe I have failed to express it correctly or the grammar as I have used in it has failed. When I find punctuation in other persons’ haiku I think they have not really learned how to write a haiku or simply are not sensitive to the breaks they have already written into the poem with the use of line endings.
One of the reasons for us to put haiku into the three-line format is to give the reader time to form an image in the mind. Our eyes tend to race over a sentence, but when the line ends before the right margin, in the time it takes for the eyes to shift back to the left-hand margin, the mind has time to make a personal image or imagination of what the line was portrayed. The reader is given one image and then another is added in the next line and then either a third one or words that demonstrate a connection are revealed. In Japanese the haiku are traditionally written in one line and occasionally English writers will attempt to follow this. If the writer is secure in the use of the two parts of the haiku he or she can pull it off. One-line haiku become problematic when the writer too-easily reverts to writing a sentence. When a haiku looks like a sentence it is often read as a sentence and fails to give the reader a chance to form those important mind images at the end of the line breaks.
Ami— You have written “There is, thank goodness, no one way to write a haiku. Though the literature has haiku which we admire and even model our own works on, there is no one style or technique which is absolutely the best. Haiku is too large for that. Haiku has, in its short history been explored and expanded by writers so that now we have a fairly wide range of styles, techniques, and methods to investigate” With that kind of freedom, it can be intimidating to understand the minimum requirements of a good haiku. Please share a few basic tenets for our writers interested in crafting pieces that are truly outstanding.
Jane— Dear Ami, if I could define the one tenet for writing truly outstanding haiku, my own work would be – at last! – outstanding. There are no secrets to writing excellent haiku. Haiku come to us, we write them down as best we can and only later do others find some good in it while still others think the same haiku is less impressive.
I have enumerated about 14 – 18 techniques used in writing haiku, but these are really only helpful to the author in realizing what has been written. It is pretty hard, and actually self-defeating, to try to write a haiku that uses a certain technique. However an understanding of the various techniques can be extremely valuable when revising or working with one’s written work. These techniques for English haiku are in my book, Writing and Enjoying Haiku and in the book Basho The Complete Haiku I discuss the techniques that he used. It is a life-long learning project.
To me, one of the interesting things about haiku is the idea that though a haiku is simple (and it is!) I know of no other form that has so many rules, techniques, guidelines, and pitfalls.
For me, the very most basic aspect is that the poem has two parts – the fragment and the phrase – and that it is set, if in lines, with one that is short, the other longer, and the third also short. Since we do not count syllables to determine the shape of the poem, I feel it is necessary to look at line length and to bring them into the haiku shape of short, long, short. This will not guarantee an “outstanding” haiku but will get it past my first hurdle.
Ami—How do the Japanese short forms fit in with imagist poetry? Some say imagist poetry was influenced by haiku. Can you tell us more about this?
Jane— I feel English poetry has definitely been influenced for the better by Japanese and other Asian poetry. It was true when Ezra Pound and Amy Lowell studied haiku and tanka in the 1910’s, when William Carlos Williams wrote of wheelbarrows Stevenson saw the blackbirds and for every poet today who attempts to use more images and less of abstract concepts in his or her poetry.
One of the major indicators of English poetry is the use of abstraction. In an effort to elevate our poetry we have abandoned factual images for greater ‘truths’ or the higher ideals such as love, devotion, honor, and our notions of sadness, pity, politics, self-help and other religious attempts. One of the problems today’s poet faces is the sure knowledge that none of us see “love” or any other abstraction in the same way. We still must search for and write to bring our personal idea of the world for sharing with others.
Another is the English penchant is for telling our listeners what to think. Ninety percent of English poetry is either telling the listener what to think about the poet or what the reader should think about ideas – “I did this” or “you should do this” or “you should think this.”
Japanese poets hand the reader images – images that are meant to be created in the mind of the reader. Then the Japanese poet shows (does not tell) how two or more images may relate by juxtaposition. It is in this ‘click’ of understanding the relationship between different images that real poetry occurs. Poetry is written in the mind of the reader; not on the page. As poets we find the best images, and place them in the proper relationship so the reader can follow our signposts to that burst of understanding we first encountered that gave rise to the poem. We cannot write poetry, we can only lead another with words to experience what we have felt, seen, tasted, or smelled and recreate the miracle.
English poetry attempts to engage and control the mind. Japanese poetry opens us to using our senses to experience the world. That is reason enough to study it and to emulate it.
Ami –Can you explain and elaborate on the technique of “close linkage ?”
Jane— Above I mentioned that the images must relate to each other and hopefully in a new and significant way. The space between the images (where the mystery of poetry occurs) is called linkage. For example in Basho’s:
a frog jumps into
the linkage between lines 1 & 2 is very close, realistic, and logical – in old ponds there will be frogs jumping. That would be called a “close linkage.” However the idea of a frog jumping into the sound of water is, pardon the pun, a huge leap. The understanding of that phrase makes one think, ponder, wonder, and in the end give a big “AHA” of enlightenment. This haiku is justly famous.
An experienced haiku writer can use linkage that is so extreme that it is hard for a new reader to appreciate the poem. It is also possible that a haiku one reads today and does not understand or ‘get’ will become clear as glass later when it suddenly reveals its hidden linkage. People new to haiku tend to like and understand close linkage and only with experience in reading and understanding haiku can they follow when the poet makes distant linkage. Sometimes poets link over puns that are not understandable to people of other times or cultures. Then we need footnotes to navigate the leap and appreciate the poetry.
Ami—Shifting to another form from the Far East, I have read a good bit of work by the much revered classical Korean poet, Hwang Jin-Yi (1522-1565.) A few months ago, I attended a talk and reading on sijo, featuring David McCann of Harvard University. We chatted afterwards and I was telling him about our magazine and how we wanted to incorporate Far Eastern forms along with our other mainstream offerings. I understand that the Korean sijo shares a common ancestry with haiku, tanka, and other Japanese forms which evolved from more ancient Chinese patterns of poetry. Can you tell us a bit more about the sijo?
The author of the oldest surviving sijo is U T'ak (1262-1342) who wrote:
The spring breeze melted snow on the hills then quickly disappeared.
I wish I could borrow it briefly to blow over my hair
And melt away the aging frost forming now about my ears.
Thus more ancient than haiku (but not tanka and renga), the Korean sijo shares a common ancestry with the similar Japanese genres because they all evolved from more ancient Chinese poetry patterns.
Sijo is traditionally composed in three lines of 14-16 syllables each, totaling between 44-46 syllables. A pause breaks each line approximately in the middle; it resembles a caesura but is not based on metrics. Each half-line contains 6-9 syllables; the last half of the final line is often shorter than the rest, but should contain no fewer than 5. The sijo may be narrative or thematic, introducing a situation or problem in line 1, development, or "turn" in line 2, and resolution in line 3. The first half of the final line employs a "twist": a surprise of meaning, sound, tone or other device. The sijo is often more lyrical, subjective and personal than haiku, and the final line can take a profound, witty, humorous or proverbial turn. Like haiku, sijo has a strong basis in nature, but, unlike that genre, it is more lyrical as it frequently employs metaphors, symbols, puns, allusions, and similar word play. Printing restrictions often cause Western sijo to be divided at the natural break mid-line and thus is printed in 6 lines. Some translators and poets have adopted this technique, so modern sijo may appear in either 3 or 6 lines. Phrases may be repeated or echoed, a trait revealing the sijo's heritage to be sung or chanted. Meter is not vital, but that musical link should no be overlooked.
Ami, I see you mention a Hwang Jin-Ye having the same dates as a poet I know as Hwang Chin-I who was supposedly the most revered female Korean classical poet. Is this the same person? This is poem accredited to her so feminine I cannot imagine her being male!
Oh that I might capture the essence of this deep midwinter night
And fold it softly into the waft of a spring-moon quilt
Then fondly uncoil it the night my beloved returns.
A word of caution. Remember we are looking at translations from the Korean. As yet we do not know how accurate these are when compared to the original and we cannot use syllables the same as the Korean sound units, so much is in flux here. At the moment the sijo scene is in need of a leader. Someone needs to take up the banner and continue the research into the sijo.
Ami –Jane, I am impressed with all your literary and artistic activities over the last few years—you have done so many different things in your life—You have established a position as a leading authority of the Japanese short forms, you have founded your own journal, press and website, worked with pottery and art, have traveled extensively, and have learned and taught about different cultures. If there was one more thing you wanted achieve, what would that be?
Jane— Just one? (laughs) Should that be a part of every interview?
I am currently working to translate all 398 of Akiko Yosano’s tanka in her 1901 book, Midaregami – Tangled Hair. Other translators have only given us about half of the poems and I am eager to get them all into English and bring them out in the original order to see if Yosano used renga techniques to compile this anthology of her tanka as some authorities have suggested. I am working with Machiko Kobayashi, a very cultured poet of tanka who is not afraid to show the sexuality of these red-hot poems. It is very exciting work in every sense of the word. We are also attempting to keep the word order, or at least the line order, of the original in the translation so English writers can see how Akiko Yosano built her poems, and the techniques she used.
Also I am working with the teachers of Mendocino County to give them a better education about haiku and tanka. Last year, after just one workshop, the entries to the ukiaHaiku Festival from the schools had vastly improved. I strongly feel USA colleges and universities need to offer classes to teach how to write English haiku, tanka and renga instead of offering just Asian Literature studies which do not prepare a teacher or the students to write in these forms which are evolving daily in our language.
Ami—And finally—you can’t imagine how many people ask me this question—what is the plural of haiku?
Jane—Haiku is a Japanese word and the Japanese language has no plural form. Their language treats all nouns as we do our words for sheep, fish, and deer. Saying ‘haikus’ feels as wrong as saying “sheeps are or “deers are.” If we are going to adopt their word I feel we should treat it with respect and not try to add our plural form to it. The same holds true for tanka, waka, and renga – all of which foul up the grammar-check on the computer but that is the marvel of our international world.