ARTICLES AND AN INTERVIEW
A REPORT ON HAIKU FESTIVAL AOTEAROA 2012
On the evening of Friday 15 June, Sandra Simpson welcomed thirty-six assembled delegates to the HFA 2012 festival, the third New Zealand haiku gathering.
Sandra Simpson & Margaret Beverland
A year previously, when she asked me if I would assist her to organise the festival, I readily agreed. Haiku poets throughout the country had been waiting for someone to take up the challenge, after the successful first gathering in our capital city, Wellington 2005, and the second in Christchurch, our now earthquake stricken city, in 2008. The latter was the first one I attended, and I had immensely enjoyed and had gained so much from the experience. It was time for another.
When she suggested inviting Jim Kacian, editor and founder of The Haiku Foundation, to be our keynote speaker, I thought whew, Sandra, you do think big. But this is New Zealand and we have been doing just that ever since the 1980s, when a former Prime Minister, Robert Muldoon, introduced a range of government funded ‘Think Big’ industrial projects to stimulate the economy.
Jim accepted our invitation. We were over the moon, and here he was, standing at the podium at the Greerton Motor Inn conference room, Tauranga, facing a star struck audience, about to open the festival. He did so, in one breath, a true haiku master.
The delegates sat in puzzled silence. They had come expecting more, and Jim graciously returned to the podium when Sandra asked him to talk about America’s haiku community. His comments were interesting, thoughtful and, for a small haiku community such as ours, encouraging. A delicious taste of what was to come.
Saturday Morning Master Class with Jim Kacian
The buzz of conversation hushed as Jim launched into his haiku master class. He introduced many of us to the concept of ba, the cultural associations which envelope each of us, and which we bring to writing our haiku.
“It is not just about right here, right now, but also about your whole culture and experience, and haiku does this better than anything else,” Jim said.
He spoke of the three major components to a haiku:
- Form – the most commonly recognized form in the ‘wider world’ of 5-7-5 and/or three lines
- Content – cherry blossoms, autumn moon etc.
- Style – the most difficult component to define.
Jim pointed to the difference between “What is the moment?” and “What do I want to say?” adding that the relationship between the two images within a haiku is another way of “entering the specifics of the moment”.
He also discussed the notion of haiku as “fast food for the literati”. He is not against the idea of sci-fi-ku, pysch-ku and so on, believing that if people with skills get involved it could help spread the truth about haiku.
"Haiku is capable of being great literature," he said, thanking Basho for elevating the hokku (later haiku) from jokiness and a sort-of party game (renku) to a poem in its own right.
"There is no one way to write haiku ... you have to ask yourself what kind of haiku is it? The first idea of form is processed and some decisions are made, such as not to write 5-7-5.
"Find what poems work in your ba ... but ‘I' have to get out of the way so the poem can reveal itself. For many the best poems they write are before they know what haiku is - you have to get past the notion of ba and be fresh again.
"It's about the freedom of having it at your disposal - your style is your style."
Jim argued that haiku are not nature poems, rather they are poems interested in the human reaction to nature - and he pointed out that in 16th century Japan people were very interested in being able to control nature's wild extremes, including tsunami, earthquakes, storms, landslides and so on.
"It's really hard to capture nature in the raw," Jim said. "And a lot of classical Japanese haiku are pretty pictures of beauty and serenity, which is another way of controlling the destructive elements. But that doesn't really apply to us - this is a different country and a different century. What's important in your life will matter more than pretty pictures from the 16th century Japanese ethos.
"We need to write to our own culture. There is a preponderance of work produced that is not addressed to our own culture, whatever that may be."
He is a champion of the form that best suits the poem. This may be anything from a single line to four lines or something that might be described as "organic".
"It's my job as the author to find the best form for the best content."
Jim noted that three-line translations did not start appearing until the early 1900s, before that haiku had been translated from a single, vertical line in Japanese to a single, horizontal line in English.
He characterized one-line haiku as "one line, one thought" but then offered the alternatives of "speedrush" - the rushing of image past the imagination where the sense catches up at the end; and "multi-stop" - which offer multiple readings by changing the place where the cut falls.
Jim demonstrated multi-stops by reading from his book of single-line haiku, where I leave off (published in English with Dutch translations in 2010), offering some four variations of this poem:
no answer when I call you autumn eve
- Jim Kacian
He added that “all the poems we remember are the ones that break the rules in interesting ways. Haiku can contain all universes.”
Time for a coffee break, and the room filled with the clinking of cups and saucers, and conversation. Jim’s presentation had given us much to discuss, much to ponder, and a whole new way of considering and reviewing our own work. During the class, he had given us time to write and share haiku. His inspiration and teaching skills were such, that delegates who were new to haiku wrote and read out work, some of which I recently accepted for publication in *Kokako 17.
After the break, the first workshop option saw four people follow Owen Bullock upstairs to a small meeting room to learn and practice techniques for performing haiku. Owen’s knowledge of theatre and folk music was invaluable and each participant received one-on-one tuition. His best piece of advice … slow down when reading, and slow down a little bit more!
Downstairs in the main room Lawrence Marceau, senior lecturer in Japanese at the University of Auckland, shared his knowledge of the haibun of Yokoi Yayū (1702-83). A simple paper fan was the subject of the Yayū haibun we studied. This ordinary household object opened our eyes to all things, the humble, the simple, the useful, as well as the more ethereal, having poetic value. After completing a writing exercise, Marceau confessed to the class, that despite his field of study, he had never written a haibun before, so he had enjoyed the writing exercise as much as the delegates.
In the afternoon delegates and tutors boarded a bus to the *Katikati Haiku Pathway. Here, Catherine Mair, founder of the project and chairwoman of the pathway committee, welcomed the delegates before they set off to explore the 40 poems engraved on rocks along the banks of the Uretara Stream.
Catherine Mair & Jim Kacian
We had held our breath, hoping that the prevailing wet weather would ease for this visit, and it did. The delegates explored the area under blue skies, with some managing to get “lost” at the local pub to work on some haiku in the warmth of the snug bar.
Following a well-earned evening dinner, delegates returned to the conference room for the presentation of prizes for the 2012 Katikati Haiku Pathway Contest. Also present were the junior prizewinners and their families, several teachers and one principal. Jim Kacian said a few encouraging words to the youngsters before presenting them with their prizes. Following the presentation of the senior prizes, the floor was turned over to an open mike session and it was great to see so many people gather their courage to present a poem or three. Lawrence offered two haiku by Takebe Ayatari (1719-1774), who has a poem on the pathway, reading them first in Japanese and then English.
Delegates were also offered a chance to talk about Cyril Childs (NZ) and Jan Bostok (Australia), both of whom have passed away since we last gathered together, and some nice memories were shared. The passing of John Knight (Australia) was also noted.
Upstairs in the small meeting room, Sandra Simpson headed a workshop on the junicho form of renku. She had chosen the hokku (head verse) before the event so participants were off to a flying start. The group had great fun and despite most being worried about the tangle of rules in renku, the first verses were safely navigated. The junicho was eventually completed online (with many reminders from Sandra) and has been accepted for publication in the December issue of the online journal, A Hundred Gourds.. The tomegaki, a review of the process, written by Sandra will appear at the bottom of the page.
In the main room Beverley George, (Australia) editor of Eucalypt Tanka Journal, shared her expertise on tanka and had participants working hard throughout as they sought to improve their knowledge of the form. Beverley had generously brought with her a copy of the Australian tanka anthology, Grevillea and Wonga Vine, for each workshop participant. These beautiful souvenirs of the event were most appreciated by the delegates.
Once again, when selecting tanka for Kokako 17, I was delighted to accept work from delegates who had attended Beverley’s course. I also accepted haibun, started during Jim Kacian’s master class, which followed the early morning workshops. All the hard work that Sandra and I had put in to stage the festival had born fruit.
The Haibun Master Class with Jim Kacian
Haibun are one of the most difficult things in the world to write, according to Jim Kacian, as they require you to master three distinct skills:
- Good prose
- Really good haiku
- Matching the prose and haiku in a way that seems inevitable ... but not obvious.
"You don't continue the content of the prose into the haiku," he said, "but it's not discontinuous either. I believe the prose and haiku should tangentially glance against one another."
He also noted that haibun may be many things, not just prose, including a prose poem, a quotation only, a title only. Where does the prose come? First, last or in the middle? Many variations are possible.
Jim had a handout booklet to the participants and under strict instructions to not turn to the second page the participants opened them.
The first page offered only the haiku of a haibun. Jim asked the delegates what they thought the prose might be that would fit the haiku. A later page offered the prose only and once again delegates were invited to write a haiku to fit.
The booklet also included a haibun that was a title, in this case a date, and a haiku, as well as a haibun written by two people. The discussions and exercises surrounding the examples were challenging and inspiring.
Jim has written about the haibun workshop in Contemporary Haibun Online (July 2012), featuring a "collaborative haibun" that was written during the class - the prose by Elaine Riddell in response to a haiku (from her own haibun) by Cynthia Rowe.
Over lunch we wound up the festival with a panel discussion. The panel comprised Jim Kacian (founder of The Haiku Foundation, owner of Red Moon Press and managing editor of the RMP annual anthologies, former editor of Frogpond), Laurice Gilbert (president and national coordinator of the New Zealand Poetry Society), Cynthia Rowe (president of HaikuOz, haiku editor of Free XpresSion) and Beverley George (past-president of HaikuOz, organiser of the 4th Haiku Pacific Rim conference and editor of Eucalypt tanka journal).
Topics were wide-ranging - including relationships between haiku groups in Australia and New Zealand, the haiku scene in Australia, the benefits of NZPS membership, Haiku NewZ and its role for the haiku community in New Zealand (and Australia), the Haiku North America conference in 2013 (on board the Queen Mary at Long Beach, California) and the role of editors.
During the discussion, a few delegates quietly left the room as their transport to the airport or bus depot arrived. The time had come to wind up a successful and inspiring festival, and say goodbye.
Sandra and I gave thanks - to those who had attended, to the event's funders – Legacy Trust (Tauranga), Tauranga Rotary and Creative Communities (Western Bay of Plenty District and Tauranga City) and to the organisers of the festivals that had gone before who had provided us with the initial seed funding. We had successfully kept the flame of Haiku Festival Aotearoa burning. Our hope is that a delegate from another (North Island?) region will take up the challenge to continue a tradition that started in Wellington in 2005. May the flame of Haiku Festival Aotearoa burn on to challenge and inspire our growing haiku community.
*Kokako is a journal of haiku, tanka, haibun and related forms published in New Zealand. The editors are Patricia Prime and Margaret Beverland. Submissions are accepted from around the world.
*The Katikati Haiku Pathway was opened in the year 2000 with 24 boulders engraved using the work of leading haiku poets from around the world. The Pathway has since grown to 40 rocks, and in the words of Jim Kacian is “the most important physical site for English-language haiku in the world”.
Acknowledgement: The report of the HFA 2012 written by Sandra Simpson and published in Haiku Newz, NZ Poetry Society website www.poetrysociety.co.nz , has provided some of the content in this report.
CONSIDERING SHORT FORMS
It was Jane Reichhold’s book Taking Tanka Home that got me started thinking about short poems and short forms. Tanka, like haiku, is a Japanese form which has been transplanted to English-speaking countries, has adapted well and taken hold.
The Reichhold book is an excellent introduction to the form. To start with, it is very pleasing visually. Each page contains one tanka, first in one line of Japanese characters, then the five-line Japanese phonetic translation, followed by the original five-line tanka in English. I found it easy to take a meditative approach to the book, taking time to consider and appreciate each poem. Here are the first two:
a round trip ticket
the shape of a navel
at the end of this life
we come back home
high in the mountains
above the tree-line
the only birdsongs
come from frogs
These give a pretty fair idea of the possibilities and uses of the form. In her Introduction to this volume, translator Aya Yuhki speaks of “concentrated words similar to the poems of Emily Dickinson.” That seems an apt comparison. Tanka are a lot like haiku, but it’s amazing how much poetry can be packed into those two extra lines. They leave room for devices like personification that are all but taboo in haiku. The poet can also enter in personally, comment and offer opinion. In this way tanka are comparable to Dickinson’s short poems and to others written in English.
I enjoyed Reichhold’s book from start to finish. When I compare these tanka to many of the precious ego-based poems being offered by contemporary poets, well, I’ll take tanka. They are a good influence on my work. Like other good poetry, they don’t always make logical sense, but they make poetic sense. They help to give form and shape to the natural world, evoking circles within circles, the connectedness of all things, long stretches of geologic time. Almost every tanka in the book uses concrete nature images, nothing fancy, but often, with a skillful twist, the energy of an image is used to flip it on its side. And the images play off of one another, blossoming like flowers, billowing like clouds. Here’s another:
the road I walked today
whispers in the grass
for the moon to appear
As in haiku, the ephemeral moment is painted. Another person’s “damned fog” becomes the poet’s welcome vehicle, and she gives us a free ride away from the annoying everyday. The poem provides a window onto a moment, but the window can become a mirror, or it can look out and reflect back at the same time.
Tanka was new to me, a different kind of poetry, yet I found the ones in this book to be rich in associations. Reichhold’s tanka made me think of poems by Gary Snyder, Jane Hirshfield, Jim Harrison, and Ikkyu, Basho, Cold Mountain, Homer even. Also R. H. Blythe’s Zen in English Literature and Oriental Classics. So, a rich book, well worth reading.
With all that said, my urge after reading Taking Tanka Home was not to write tanka, but rather to keep writing poems of all kinds, especially shorter ones. As I said, it really got me thinking about short forms in English language poetry. Why do we need to import haiku and tanka? Isn’t there a tradition of short forms in English that is worth tapping into?
I began exploring this idea, and came across a worthwhile piece by Lafcadio Hearn, “Note Upon the Shortest Forms of English Poetry.” It’s part of his Books and Habits, a collection based on lectures he delivered to students in Japan between 1896 and 1902. Hearn starts out, “Perhaps there is an idea among Japanese students that one general difference between Japanese and Western poetry is that the former cultivates short forms and the latter longer ones, but this is only in part true.” He goes on to point especially to the Greeks, who “carried poetry to the highest perfection that it has ever attained” and “delighted in short forms.”
Hearn’s opinion is that writers of short poems in English and other European languages lost the way by basing it on Roman satirical epigrams rather than the more purely aesthetic Greek model. He does, however, reference some very nice short poems, by Ben Johnson, Robert Herrick and Walter Savage Landor, among others, even while dismissing much of their work as “worthless satires or worthless jest.”
Well, I don’t know. I like a good laugh, and don’t see anything wrong with using poetry for humorous as well as aesthetic purposes. Hearn goes on to make his case: “It was not until comparatively modern times that our Western world fully recognized the value of the distich, triplet or quatrain for the expression of beautiful thoughts, rather then for the expression of ill-natured ones. But now that the recognition has come, it has been discovered that nothing is harder than to write a beautiful poem of two or four lines. . . . I should like to suggest, however, that it is very probable many attempts at these difficult forms of poetry will be attempted by English poets within the next few years. There is now a tendency in that direction.”
Which brings us up to the present, more or less. Has there really been a tendency in that direction, and has it produced much poetry of note? William Carlos Williams’s “red wheel barrow” comes to mind, and Carl Sandburg’s “fog,” and various couplets and quatrains by Robert Frost, but longer poems certainly continue to be more admired and imitated—Ginsberg confession, Bukowski complaint, Billy Collins cuteness.
The fact that no other short poems leap readily to mind might serve as my answer to the questions posed. Short poems don’t get much respect. I can understand that to a certain extent. If a poet writes only epigrams, we might say he hasn’t achieved much, though no one seems to accuse Basho of being “just a haiku poet.” So some of it is culturally determined. Just as the respect accorded poets varies from country to country, the respect given to shorter forms may also vary. Here in the States, publishers are always looking for “the next big book,” usually meaning a novel. But even in poetry, small is often equated with slight.
Short forms suffered something of a setback in the 1970’s after Aram Saroyan’s minimalist poem, “lighght,” received a $500 National Endowment for the Arts award. Absurdly, Republicans in Congress made an ongoing issue of this in seeking to cut NEA funding. Did that celebrated incident create a backlash against short poems? Possibly. And possibly there was a certain amount of throwing the baby out with the bath—denigrating all short poems to justify denigrating one.
It’s instructive to look through anthologies or books by individual poets and see how many short poems are included. It’s surprising, for instance, how many of Walt Whitman’s poems are quite short. Sandburg’s books also include a mix of short poems interspersed with longer ones. They provide variety and counterpoint, a different kind of beauty. Here’s one of his:
The voice of the last cricket
across the first frost
is one kind of good-by.
It is so thin a splinter of singing.
It’s hard to say anything definitive about the modern scene, because there are so many regions and niches. Some years back I contributed to a little magazine called Ant Farm, which was made up of very short poems. It eventually folded, and I don’t know of another that has taken its place. On the world wide web, Wisconsin poet Norbert Blei has a site called Basho’s Road, which displays and celebrates short poems in various forms. Jane Reichhold maintains a site called AHA Poetry and publishes a web zine, Lynx, which includes haiku, tanka, renga, and articles about short forms. No doubt there are other websites and zines of which I am not aware.
An interesting recent trend is the use of short poems in works of fiction. Almost by necessity, poems used in a novel will be short, in order not to get in the way of the story. Sharon Creech, a Newberry medalist for her novel Walk Two Moons, has published two other novels, Love That Dog and Hate That Cat, which use short poems by Williams, Frost, Tennyson, Walter Dean Myers and others as part of the plot line. Bart Schneider has published two novels, The Man in the Blizzard and Nameless Dame, featuring a police detective who is hooked on poetry and tries to convince everyone he knows to memorize a poem or two. These novels use poems very creatively as an integral part of the story. Many poets are represented, both famous and obscure. Here are a couple of examples from The Man in the Blizzard:
Just as I stood up
I sat back down
what I stood for.
To believe you are magnificent. And gradually to discover that
you are not magnificent. Enough labor for one human life.
Something Schneider’s novels brings out, with which I wholeheartedly agree, is that the world of poetry has room for almost unlimited variety of form and content. As poets, we shouldn’t limit or pigeonhole ourselves, but rather revel in the variety of poetic possibilities and write what is ours to write, call it what you will. As Jack Kerouac said, “Something that you feel will find its own form.”
“Tanka came through the door that haiku had opened,” says Reichhold. I would like to see that door stay open, not just to Oriental forms, but to short poems and forms in the Western tradition. I love the short Japanese forms, and I’m all for cultural exchange and cross-fertilization, but let’s not forget the beauty of couplets and quatrains—poets should be able to use them at least as well as hip-hop artists and country music songwriters.
TAKING TANKA HOME by Jane Reichhold.
AHA Books, 2011, 100 pp., $15.00
BOOKS AND HABITS FROM THE LECTURES OF LAFCADIO HEARN
Edited by John Erskine. William Heinemann, 1922. (Available free as an e-book.)
Previously published in The Redwood Literary Review, June, 2012.
LYNX INTERVIEW WITH SHEILA MURPHY
Lynx: Sheila, thank you for agreeing to be interviewed. We are eager for more Lynx readers to know you and your work. So to begin with could you give us an introduction to who you are? If we met on the street who would you be?
Sheila Murphy: I am most grateful to be interviewed by LYNX! Thank you for inviting me, Jane and Werner. If you met me, you would find me to be a youthful, petite person with a rather prominent smile that is my inevitable reflex to the bounty of life around me. I am what one might consider a highly interested person. My vocations and
avocations are definitively plural. I enjoy literature, music, art, economics, outdoor activity, and teaching. I earn my living as a consultant to executives in matters pertaining to organizational strategy and leadership effectiveness. I co-founded Executive
Advisement, LLC (a merger), following about 20 years in my own firm, Sheila Murphy, LLC. Throughout my life, poetry has occupied a primary position, a career choice that is also a way of life. I live in a splendid desert city that is peaceful and private. I was reared in a university environment in the Midwestern United States. I travel extensively, both for work and for leisure. My disposition is a happy one. I engage in repartee, I listen, I laugh. I enjoy people immensely, and find myself enjoying life quite extensively.
Lynx: How did you come to writing?
SM: In school, particularly high school, I had teachers who were extraordinary intellectuals. Several of them possessed the gift of communicating to us the remarkable contribution made by certain poets. I considered poets to be perhaps the most important citizens of the world. I liked the way that poets were regarded by these very bright
teachers. I saw in poetry a way of knowing reality that appeared to exceed any other discipline's ability to render the value of perception, thought, and feeling. I secretly scribbled at night, and hoped to grow my ability. Like so many people, I was very shy about it. I was a trained musician (flutist) and was constantly performing (until
age 22).Eventually I would adopt poetry as my page music of choice, and release
the emotional burden of constant fluting.
Lynx: What made you choose the form of ghazal for creating your contemporary poetry?
SM: I have found this form intriguing in many ways. The traditions of the form are dazzling. The emotional content of early Persian uses of the ghazal is often powerful. Its successors among well-known modern or contemporary writers include Phyllis Webb,
Adrienne Rich, John Thompson, Robert Bly, Galway Kinnell, and Jim Harrison.
What happened to me when I first read examples of ghazals in English was similar to my discovery of John Asbury’s haibun (in Sulfur around April, 1984). I wanted to try the form. This does not always happen when I encounter a form. In general, I am fond of forms that use small ingredients to build a larger whole. Varying uses of the ghazal are right for this tendency. On the spectrum of expectation and surprise, I lean toward surprise. The ghazal is capable of "sneaking up" on the writer with quite unexpected directions, tendencies, and startling discoveries. This means that I gravitate toward the form with more than the expected level of excitement. Reading a ghazal teaches us anew how to read, as well as how to perceive life in general. Patterns come to inform us of
much than we would guess beyond just themselves.
Lynx: What possibilities open up by using the time-proven couplet?
SM: In my experience, there is a world of possibility in this form or its derivatives. For me, the space between couplets is the zone of excitement. Each of the couplets must function as a whole poem. Each must be crystalline, utilize its language fully,
and inspire accordingly. A granule of truth arrives, brushing away extraneous distractions. Then there is that blessed space, where nothing occupies its preserve. At that point, this vacancy, teeming with potency, allows the arrival of something totally unexpected, yet
hinged in a mysterious way. The best reader or writer will not force that issue, over-reach any connection, but will certainly welcome it. We will enjoy additional
spaces, then, following each of the couplets, until the final one that
closes the poem.
Lynx: Parallelism is an old form, but in your ghazals it seems you are stretching the parallel to be a leap. Were you aware of this?
SM: Leaps in poetry are important to me. I take them to represent one of the greatest areas of opportunity. I like, for instance, in the haibun form, how much of a generous distance there is between the prose passage and the haiku that follows. My favorite haibun make great use of this feature. The ghazal offers us multiple such opportunities
between couplets. I consciously recognize (after writing) that there is something very subtle about the potential for wholeness in a ghazal. That it is multiple poems within a single poem (considering, as I do, each of the couplets an intact entity), and of course a much larger poem in its entirety. I am adding more linkage and more potential by including a series of ghazals into books. I recognize that one could hinge all of these into a work that featured links to one another.
Lynx: Other ghazal writers kept the traditional elements of the form, but you have discarded them. Your reasons?
SM: I have the ultimate respect for the original, traditional elements of the form. They seem to comprise a different entity from what I title the "American Ghazal" (Several people have asked me what makes this particularly American). In American English, I see a great potential for the workings of language as a release mechanism for the psyche. One can simultaneously consider various gestures, presences, awakenings, and one can perceive the multiplex of likeness, difference, and the vast spectrum between those two polarities.
Lynx: Do you agree that you avoid linear thinking because, by our very nature, there is no linear thinking?
SM: Remarkably enough, I embrace linear thinking in many of my pursuits, yet linear thinking is comparatively so easy when place next to the more lateral thought processes. I have commented many times that I float around in alpha most of the time, performing tasks that are themselves linear, with ease and pleasure. It is easy to be happy that
way. At the same point, any chance to be engaged in art allows for more presence in my thinking and feeling. I do that with a sense of celebration. Simultaneity is something that constantly exceeds what we suspect about it. There are patterns to be discovered everywhere: in nature, in simple listening, and in looking around us.
Lynx: : Do you think the ghazal the ideal concept to become a true contemporary poetry?
SM: Like the Etch-a-Sketch, that child's toy from decades back, I would respond "Begin anywhere . .." (as I wrote in an older poem). This is true of the ghazal or of any form. One can start with nothing and at any location, mental or physical. Poems are in every stage: already alive and thriving, not-yet-conceived, and everything in between, with or without us. We find what we need to find. We locate breath, we locate sound, we locate space. We are of the poem, and the poem spawns us, the recognizers of the poem. We are the smitten, the divulging, the hungry. We are the ones who need the poem, not the reverse.
Therefore, the ghazal is one of many (of infinite) entities that starts and facilitates, and draws forth the poem. There are many of these.
Lynx: We have to ask you, though you may be taking your life in hands with an answer, in which ways is the richness of the ghazal-concept superior to the short Japanese forms of haiku and tanka? Are their similarities to the renga?
SM: Knowing that California is not very far away from Arizona, I recognize that I must answer this question very carefully J The ghazal is a joyous excuse for a poem, as are the multiple Japanese short forms. I am a pragmatic idealist, if I may say. Whatever works to achieve our dreams! J The ghazal does some things for us that few other forms can. The particular positioning of complete entities that work together as part of a larger whole perhaps has political implications that can carry us to a meta-recognition of its own. Poetry invites us to transcend at every turn The ghazal is a wonderful way to stretch.
Lynx: : Do you see the ghazal as an improvement over free verse?
SM: Quite frankly, I consider any poem in any form, be it rhyming, non-rhyming, formal, non-formal, prose, lineated, or any hybrid form, to be possibly the greatest poem ever composed. I don't believe that any form can claim superiority over another. However, I do believe that the ghazal has a great power and flexibility, in addition to its anchoring context. I used to speak about particular forms (haibun, in particular) as little containers into which I would pour perception. The ghazal as I envision it in the American idiom, provides this type of opportunity. One can blend discipline with content. One can shape
and discover through the polarities of a magnetic containment working in concert with an equal opposite of chaotic matter perhaps waiting to be claimed. In this way, the ghazal is a wonderful arena for captivating poetic energies, including poetic perception.
Lynx: How does the very form influence your choice of images?
SM: As one begins the writing, that hesitation one intuits as a result of knowing that the form is but a short one, appears to afford the chance to select a simple yet rich image. I am not sure that this does not apply to many different short forms. I think it does. Yet I am speaking here of the ghazal per se.
Lynx: Do you have a reason for keeping to 5 to ten stanzas? Do you find this is the ideal poetic concept to lure people into all their otherwise indefinable emotions and events between birth and death?
SM: I know that 5 stanzas is the minimum. Earlier, when I began to write a sequence of ghazals, I was actually looking beyond the single form toward a lengthier effort. Thus, the shorter version for each separate ghazal. Rather than thinking this "the ideal," I found it a natural way to work.
Lynx: By following your ghazal will readers become delighted to try out this form by themselves?
SM: I would imagine that people would want to try this, yes. I found it an attractive pursuit because I didn't think I would be in a position to prescribe what emerged. I think that I called correctly! At its best, the form invites effort that extends beyond the impulse to write. One can never guarantee or even claim a particular level of probability
for this form. However, one must select a form that is appropriate for one's own ways
of working. This form is something I like. As I have allowed it to be relaxed into the American idiom, I have found it very welcome.
Lynx: How are you connected to other ghazal writers?
SM: Principally by reading. I am not a joiner, but I am an admirer of writing, and I am blessed with good friends, some of whom are writers. I am not in contact personally with other ghazal writers that I know of.
Lynx: How are you influenced by the musical attributes of the ghazal?
SM: Music is a core part of my personality, and so I naturally hear ghazals
in a rather acute manner. I sense that every ghazal could be sung. I would relish the opportunity to hear the passionate Persian ghazals sung. There is so much musical
range in the form itself.
Lynx: In about 1985, there was the yearly meeting of ghazal-writers in Pakistan. Over 1600 attended and read (sang) in public throughout the country 1800 of their own works, day and night for one week. Can you imagine this in English?
SM: Frankly, I would be gob smacked by such an event in English. Something tells me that the original languages would be perfect for such an event. I often consider that hearing a foreign language might offer the possibility of a form of learning different from a verbal one. There would be profound lessons in the mere syllabics of such an occasion. I would have loved to attend. I believe that we can learn everything from poetry, although it is not fundamentally an epistemological vehicle. Poetry might house feeling and then release it, like a winged being. What anyone can write is proof of tenderness, of rage, of breathing.
SHIRISH PAI - AN INTRODUCTION
Shirish Pai is credited with introducing haiku to the Marathi ** speaking world.
Puja Malushte says in her paper presented at the 9th World Haiku Festival held at Bangalore (India) in February 2008, that Shirish Pai, a well known author and poetess is the precursor of the haiku movement in Marathi. She started writing haiku in 1975. She studied Japanese haiku, its origin, changes from tanka to haiku and its nature. She has
published 5 Marathi Haiku books. She has also translated some Japanese haiku from English to Marathi. In these books she has given some articles regarding haiku and how to write haiku. These books work as a guide to new haiku writers. She hasgiven preface to a few haiku books of other haiku poets wherein she has outlined features of haiku. Thus, the credit goes to Shrish Pai to bring haiku to Marathi literature.
One evening, I met Smt Shirish Pai in her Shivaji Park residence along with Puja Malushte.
Pai began by saying that Haiku is not a poem; it is a poetic wondering or a poetic exclamation.
She said : Not all three line poems can become haiku.
According to Pai, haiku is not a piece of thought- not even an expression of any feeling or emotion.
In the beginning she was writing haiku on nature only. When she began writing haiku in Marathi, haiku was not very much known widely; and people were making fun of haiku calling it derisively kaaiku ( meaning why ); even the great haijin Issa was referred to as gussa (meaning anger).
Pai remembers, with amusement, those writers who did not look upon haiku as anything great with any literary value, asking Pai as to why she was wasting time on pursuing haiku.
Shirish Pai was born in a famous literary family. For a long time Pai was the editor of an old established paper. Her father was renowned public figure, writer, journalist, poet, orator, educationist. He is the producer of the famous Marathi movie Shyamci aayi which won accolades and Presidential award.
Shirish Pai, who came into the literary world, following in the footsteps of her great father, recalled with sadness, that her father was not alive when she won name and fame for her haiku from the Marathi literary world.
She has now stopped writing any form of poetry and writes only haiku.
The sadness in the "caw caw" of the crow which comes and perches itself on the window can be shown in haiku- she says.
Someone who plucks flowers (with such force), plucks along with the flowers the buds as well. Pai mentions about the current scenario of violence against small girls in this context. If it is not a haiku ( but a normal poem), this aspect can be explicitly told in so many words. Not in a haiku.
Pai recalls that the book of English translation of Japanese haiku presented to her by the well-known writer Vijay Tendulkar was the first step in her haiku journey; she was quite fascinated by that book. She read it again and again. She wanted to write haiku. She started writing. But she knew in her heart of hearts that what she wrote in the beginning was not haiku.
Sometime later, when she was alone watching nature in a garden and wondering with sadness as to why she was not able to write haiku, all of a sudden, her first haiku about the crow came into being.
Thereafter, haiku came naturally to her - by itself, without any conscious effort on her part.
Pai says that one can not "compose" a haiku- definitely not with any laboured effort.
Words, command over words and the usage of words - this is the basic requirement.
Which word one uses, how it is used and where one uses it - this can make a haiku or kill a haiku. How one finishes a haiku is very critical to a haiku and this can, if not handled well, can spoil a haiku.
More than 50 books, many awards, accolades, invitations from all parts of Maharashtra to speak about haiku and to recite her haiku - all stand ample testimony to her standing out as an exceptional figure in the Marathi haiku world.
Over 83 years old, Shirish Pai does not much step out of her house, these days. She writes only haiku.
For those interested in haiku and want to write haiku, her advice is-
Read lot of Japanese haiku of the masters.
Read them again and again.
Realize for yourself how haiku is basically different from poetry and what are the elements of the difference. This should be felt and can be felt as you read more and more.
Without reading the Japanese masters, you will never realize what haiku is. See how words are used and where they are used.
See that your writing does not have even a single word which is not necessary.
Here are some haiku written by Shirish Pai ...
Remember translation into English from the original Marathi takes its toll on the beauty of haiku.
The yellow butterfly lost in the yellow evening sun came alive in the shadow when I bent and saw.
On the windscreen of a speeding car, a tiny butterfly slowly came and sat quietly.
oh! such a mist
and so much
deep as the valley
each in a gusto
merging at a stream below
none in the dark—
raindrops ceaselessly tap
on the leaves
dust on the leaves
little butterflies saunter
in the silent wood
carry dust and dry leaves
and a butterfly
touch at the bushes
butterflies suddenly take off
leaving my garden
looking for something
a butterfly prances
in the mud and the street
talking to you
I see a butterfly
unaware of the whirr
of a butterfly above the head
a tomcat lazying in the sun
passing close by me—
do you know?
two butterflies fly away
as I near the bush
the delicate butterfly
and hurt the wings' hues
** Marathi is an Indo-Aryan language of the state of Maharashtra. There are 90 million fluent Marathi speakers worldwide. Marathi is the 4th most spoken language in India and the 15th in the world. Marathi has the oldest of the regional literature in the Indo Aryan languages. Marathi is estimated to be over 1300 years old
My thanks to Puja Malushte - for this meeting - for helping me with, then and there, with equivalent English words on behalf of Shirish Pai. A.P.