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What Is Haiku?
Haiku: “little drops of poetic essence” – Sir George Sansom Haiku is a form of Japanese poetry originating in the 16th-17th century that states in three lines a spiritual insight with poetic originality. Haiku is about living in harmony with the present moment through observing nature, season, insects and animals. It is the world’s shortest surviving form of poetry and a portal where eastern poetics were studied and rejuvenated with western linguistics. Tracing to its roots, readers will discover Basho (1644-1694), the Japanese master who though never heard of the word “haiku” (in his time, Hokku) had perfected and elevated the form from its previous promiscuity as a comic linked verse to a powerful stand-alone poetic genre(Bowers, vii in The Classic Tradition of Haiku: An Anthology (Dover Thrift Editions)). His literary journey is also the journey of haiku ( The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches (Penguin Classics), which constantly evolved that in his last years had reached the summit to become Classic Haiku canon Oi River No dust on the waves Just a summer’s moon (Reichhold, 231 in Basho: The Complete Haiku) On the surface a river without dust that clearly reflects the moon is a peaceful piece of articulate painting and on the deeper level if one is familiar with Eastern literary references this haiku also reveals the poet’s inner state of serene being – no world’s troubles on his path but the truth shining through. Succeeding Basho to define and refine the art of haiku were Buson (1718-83 Haiku Master Buson (Companions for the Journey)), Issa (1763-1827 The Spring of My Life: And Selected Haiku), Chino-Yi (1703-1775 Chiyo-ni: Woman Haiku Master), Shiki (1867-1902 Masaoka Shiki) and many other poets whose vastly different genius of haiku collectedly established the tradition of Classic Haiku ( Classic Haiku: The Greatest Japanese Poetry from Basho, Buson, Issa, Shiki, and Their Followers (Eternal Moments)) that continued to inspire readers with 17 Japanese syllables in three lines. Two of American’s best writers, Emerson (1803-1882 The Essential Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson (Modern Library Classics)) and Thoreau (1817-1862 Walden: Introduction and Annotations by Bill McKibben (Concord Library)) in their transcendental writings on nature may have paved a quiet path for haiku to channel through. After World War II, the need for the West and the East to understand each other also intensified and the haiku movement could be said to have flourished when professors and scholars translated influential volumes of Japanese haiku into English. What these writers found so valuable and moving in haiku was that in a drop of essence the readers could gain a glimpse of the Japanese poetry and eastern culture behind. Extensive translation projects were undertaken by Harold Henderson (1875-1922 An Introduction to Haiku: An Anthology of Poems and Poets from Basho to Shiki) and R.H. Blyth (1898-1964 Haiku 4 Vols: Eastern Culture. Spring. Summer-Autumn and Winter. Haiku (4 volume set - 1. Eastern Culture,. 2. Spring, 3. Summer-Autumn, 4, Winter) ). National Societies of Haiku mushroomed worldwide: in America (1968), in Canada (1977), in Australia (1980”s), in UK(1990) and the latest in Ireland(2006). Poets picked up a book of haiku and can’t resist trying their hands on it. They may not try to write Basho’s Hokku but try to bring their own talent to provide life and marrow to haiku and modernize it. The American imagist poet like Ezra Pound (1885-1972 Ezra Pound: Poems and Translations (Library of America), The Cantos of Ezra Pound (New Directions Paperbook)) and beat generation novelist Jack Kerouac (1922-1969, On the Road (Penguin Great Books of the 20th Century)) to name a few all saw the inspirations and left this world with their own sketches of frogs jumping into this ancient pond of haiku. Some poets moved on to the direction of form and experiment with English versions of 5-7-5 syllables. And their successful poetry has somewhat made it a popular rule for the Western Haiku. The Haiku Anthology (Third Edition) Haiku Moment: An Anthology of Contemporary North American Haiku Japanese and English are fundamentally different writing language systems. In the Eastern writing systems, the written words are mostly monosyllabic and pictographic.“The Japanese syllable is an uncommonly short and uniform entity, typically consisting of one simple consonant followed by one simple vowel with no marked stress on any syllable” (Holman & Harmon, 230 in A Handbook to Literature (Handbook to Literature)). While a Japanese word contain very few syllables, the English word contrarily often contains multiple syllables. 17 Japanese syllables are not equivalent of 17 English syllables. Most books on Modern Haiku will tell the readers syllable counts should not be of primary concern but to take into considerations all other elements that constitute a solid haiku like rhythm, image, season word, oneness, feeling, surprise, compassion, etc. (Donegan, 8 in Haiku (Asian Arts and Crafts For Creative Kids), Haiku Mind: 108 Poems to Cultivate Awareness and Open Your Heart) Excerpt from GARDEN HAIKU (2nd ed). As Hamill has noted, “the best haiku reflect an undeniable Zen influence” with elements of compassion, silence and awareness of temporality (xii, Sound of Water) and on the lines that opened his journals of “The Narrow Road to the Deep North”, Basho quoted the ancient Chinese priest Komon (Yuasa, 51)who had attained the state of ecstasy. "A similar state of ecstasy is also recorded by Chuang Tzu" (Yuasa, 151)( The Way of Chuang Tzu (Second Edition)) who followed Lao Tzu’s Tao position and developed it further. The three haiku masters were all very well versed in the Chinese Classics and in their writing referred to ancient Chinese poets for literary allusions. The soul of Chinese literature is poetry: from oldest "Book of Odes"(1000 BC) to Tang Shi (Tang dynasty poetry: 618-907 AD, The New Directions Anthology of Classical Chinese Poetry) to Song Ci (Song dynasty poetry: 960-1279 AD). Underneath this glorious landscape were Lao Tzu’s (cir 604 BC, Tao Te Ching: A New English Version (Perennial Classics)) influences running through gem-like poems by Tao Chien (365-427 AD The Selected Poems of T'ao Ch'ien, Meng Hao-jan (689-740, The Mountain Poems of Meng Hao-Jan), Wang Wei (699-759, 19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei: How a Chinese Poem is Translated), Li Po (701-762), Tu Fu (712-770, Du Fu: A Life in Poetry), Po Chu-I (772-846, The Selected Poems of Po Chu-I (New Directions Paperbook)) Tu Mu (803-52, Classical Chinese Poetry: An Anthology) whose names quite often appeared in Basho, Buson and Issa's writings. Lao Tzu talked of “Wu Wei” which sometimes misinterpreted as “doing nothing” and thus was criticized for its pessimism. But it actually means “practicing non-doing” or “Being in the present” for in truth, “doing is never enough if you neglect Being” (Tolle,103 in A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose (Oprah's Book Club, Selection 61)). Lao Tzu said , “I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures (67).” If one marks Lao Tzu's words that "Muddy water, let stand, becomes clear," (Byrne, 186 in The Secret: The Power one will see the heart of Zen and haiku. The water of Zen flew into English literature through the talented hands of Great Britain scholar Blyth (1898-1964) with his 6 volumes of translated Haiku (Haiku, 4 vols, 1949 & History of Haiku, 1963) also made impression on works by Wallace Stevens (1879-1955, The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens), Williams Carlos Williams (1883-1963, The Palm at the End of the Mind: Selected Poems and a Play) Richard Wright (1908-1960 Haiku: This Other World), Allen Ginsberg(1926-1997: Collected Poems 1947-1997),Gary Snyder, (1930- , Mountains and Rivers Without End: Poem) whose poems reflecting the Imagist emphasis on Chinese and Japanese poetry. Haiku, a poetic genre born out of the commoners (Saito, vii in 1020 Haiku in Translation: The Heart of Basho, Buson and Issa) with its democratic characteristic is modern day's fittest poetry that knows no literary boundaries. As long as a poetic essence of the moment is captured, any subject will be Zen. In this flowering stage of haiku union, we have a garden full of colorful haiku for all purposes, and as one will see, this list will keep on growing when a New Haiku book has popped up sometime somewhere. Haiku for teachers The Haiku Handbook -25th Anniversary Edition: How to Write, Teach, and Appreciate Haiku Writing and Enjoying Haiku: A Hands-on Guide Haiku for kids: Today And Today Cool Melons - Turn To Frogs!: The Life And Poems Of Issa Haiku Picturebook for Children Haiku for Jews (and all) Haikus for Jews: For You, a Little Wisdom Hanukkah Haiku Haiku for pet-lovers Dogku In the Eyes of the Cat: Japanese Poetry For All Seasons The Cuckoo's Haiku: and Other Birding Poems If Not for the Cat (Horn Book Fanfare List (Awards)) Haiku books '09 Haiku - The Sacred Art: A Spiritual Practice in Three Lines (The Art of Spiritual Living) Haiku: An Anthology of Japanese Poems (Shambhala Library)
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