Personal Reading Notes from Janick Belleau
The Blue Planet, Multilingual Haiku Anthology edited by Toshio Kimura.
Hokumeisha, Tokyo, 2011. 72 pages. ISBN: 978 489448-669-0. ¥ 1600 /$15/15 €.
To order: toshio DOT kmr AT gmail DOT com
In The Blue Planet the title suggests a double feeling: on the one hand, the splendour of our blue and green planet; on the other hand, Mother Earth’s suffering buffeted by humanity – the planet is blue and so are haiku poets concerned about or interested in environment and ecology.
Two languages dominate the collection with equal share: Japanese (on the left page) and English and the poets’ original language (on the right page) if it is other than English – there are thus eleven languages gracing this collection.
The anthology is divided into two parts.
The first one « Memories in Blue » contains haiku written to commemorate the tsunami and the earthquake which devastated eastern Japan on March 11, 2011. Twenty-six poets convey their sadness in three lines:
pursued by radioactivity
wandering mother and child
meet a kitten
Tōta Kaneko (Japan)
in Germany – the earthquake
Stefan Wolfschuetz (Germany)
shakes them down
Michael Dylan Welch (U.S.A.)
The second part bears the title of the collection: it is comprised of 24 poets (five poems per poet): two thirds come from Japan or have elected it as their residence; six live in Europe and two in America, namely the US and Canada.
In a postscript, Chief Editor Toshio Kimura, explains how this collection came about: « Japanese haiku poets (…)I wanted to share modern haiku with the world and started
an international haiku workshop. »
He « asked haiku poets outside Japan for their haiku, and then translated them into Japanese. »
According to Mr Kimura, the purpose of his anthology is two-fold: first, it « tries to demonstrate modern Japanese haiku to the world » – honour to who honour is due:
till captured and
transformed into tears
– a beast
Toshio Kimura (Japan)
every butterfly falls down
Hiroko Takahashi (Japan)
Second, the work « aims at cross-cultural understanding, in line with the prosperity of haiku around the world. »
the flea and the horse
sitting in the same meadow –
Marius Chelaru (Romania)
the snow melts
a fossil of a jellyfish
Dhugal J. Lindsay (Australia/Japan)
sweet, sweet legs
all the way up to
a shark face
Andreas Preiss (Germany)
Philip Rowland (U.K./Japan)
Toshio Kimura is one of the directors of the Haiku International Association and a judge for the annual contest of the HIA. He is a member of Japan PEN Club, of World Haiku Association and an active presence in the Modern Haiku Association. One remembers that this Association edited the bilingual (Japanese/English)
anthology The Haiku Universe for the 21st Century in 2008; Mr Kimura wrote the illuminating first part entitled « Brief History of Modern Japanese Haiku ». The Blue Planet is presented in a much smaller format and shows the author’s vision regarding modern haiku.
The shortest poem of the world still likes to stand, in English, on three lines in 87 % cases. When it begs to differ, it stands on one horizontal line or on two:
under your wing the face of the glacier
Lee Gurga (U.S.A.)
Cherry trees in leaf
now at a quick pace
Zhen Hua Dong (China/Japan)
The nearly quatracentennial rule of fixed 17 morae (5-7-5) has changed a lot since half of a century. How long or how short should be the haiku? Should one count 17 sounds or syllables? Or 17 words in some cases? Let us agree that a contemporary haiku should not insist on a fixed number of syllables. One word of caution: the short poem should remain brief enough to be read in one easy breath. Many Western languages require too many syllables to form one word or a proper phrase – come to think of it, some haiku look like a sentence folded on three lines instead of three distinct phrases. Also, does a modern haiku need a capital letter at the beginning of each line?
The lily of the valley blossom
Has covered woods
In white bride’s dress
Ivan Bondarenko (Ukraine)
The discrepancies between countries insofar as form is concerned, are numerous. There might be a reason for that: five out of six of the selected poets have a mother tongue other than English. The Japanese poets belonging to the international haiku group mentioned by Mr Kimura must be happy: haiku has crossed its territorial waters and came to nest in the heart of the international community… would it be about to define the Western version of haiku? Should it be known henceforth as a « tercet », a short poem or a micro-poem? Will the Japanese short poem still be called « haiku » if its rules are turned upside down?
The season word
Let us be humble by stating that a good number of Western haiku poets, including myself, do not grasp the deep meaning of the Japanese kigo. I shall use other words to convey the idea of « kigo », remembering a lecture given by Ms Madoka Mayuzumi at the 4th Festival international du haïku francophone (Lyon, October 2010). Part of her lecture was previously given in August 2010 at the University of Bucharest, Romania at the 15th Symposium on Japanese Language Education in Europe. She explained that there are « over 400 ways to express (the season word « rain » …) with the different kinds of rain falling in the four seasons reflecting the emotions of the Japanese. »
My guess is that no Western country can compete with a civilisation that has a thorough appreciation or understanding of Nature’s moods which brings refined aesthetics to haiku writing and creates an emotional impact upon reading such haiku.
In The Blue Planet, the season word is favoured among the poets representing eleven countries – more than 90 % of the Japanese (natives and residents) and North American haiku show a natural reference or a keyword:
I walk the mountain
in cherry blossoms
pretending to have forgotten
Michiko Iwabuchi (Japan)
After washing up
putting a warm plate back
in the cold cupboard
David Burleigh (U.K./Japan)
European poets appear more liberal with 70 % of their poems showing a season word; some use more than one seasonal reference.
The snow melted away.
Rain in the mist washing
Marijan Čekolj (Croatia)
The cut marker & the juxtaposition
Both elements of haiku often seem neglected if not misunderstood. So many countries, so many view points.
Since Western languages do not have cutting words (ya, kana, keri, nari) as in Japanese, the poets sometimes use a punctuation mark such as the popular em dash, the ellipsis or the colon to suggest a pause or a change of register.
for bears dreaming
Yi Yang (China/Japan)
I wonder the sea –
sea is in my eyes too
one drop of salt tear
Judit Vihar (Hungary)
For me, haiku shows its originality or its depth by the way two ideas or images are juxtaposed. I prefer to read poets who think outside the box, who propose a fleeting thought/feeling/impression. I cherish poets who venture into an unusual association between two concepts seemingly incompatible at first sight, and those who reveal a piece of their heart:
Dead leaves whirling
Yoshiko Fukushima (Japan)
if we were fish,
Mikkii Nakayama (Japan)
My soul and breast
in my arms
Kiyoko Uda (Japan)
On a last note
One might wonder why I do not mention the name of the sole Canadian poet present in this collection? Modesty is the only answer. However, here is one haiku… for the record:
buried under the flowers
Janick Belleau (Canada)
Copyright Janick Belleau, ©2012.