|Technique used in Modern Japanese Haiku:
Vocabulary and StructureBan’ya NATSUISHI
1. The use of words: season words, keywords, and others
What is haiku? Is it a short poem depicting scenery and things in season, as it is often mistaken both inside and outside Japan? Or, is it a mystical language evoking satori (enlightenment) in Zen Buddhism, as is commonly perceived overseas? At the least, today’s contemporary Japanese haiku unfurls into boundless and deep development. Development that neither Matsuo Basho (1644-1694), who advocated free spirit for haiku during the late 17th century, nor Masaoka Shiki (1862-1902), who tried to modernize haiku during the late 19th century, would have ever imagined.
The keyword of each of the above haiku comes from animism: “a nameless mountain” in spring makes its presence felt more than human beings; “the young peach tree” refers to the starting point for all creation; “winter waterfalls” comforts those having trouble sleeping; “the cherry blossoms” depict a group of the dead; “the white leeks” shine mystically; “a spring bird” suggests a spirit of the fields and mountains; and “cineraria daisies” encourage those awaiting the arrival of another at a meeting place.
In the haiku above, the keywords “television”, “eyeballs”, “buffaloes”, “iron”, “sea”, “paper”, “boulder”, and “Saturday” transcend seasons. Replacing season words, these non-seasonal keywords are the center of contemporary haiku and help crystallize contemporary Japanese’ diverse interests into a short poem.
2. Structure of haiku: kire (break) and a leap in viewpoint
In a short poem, haiku, it is expected that keywords of season or non-season words are effectively used to reach deeply into the reader’s feelings. This way haiku can avoid ending up as merely a short poem but can fully express rich con-tent that could be equivalent to that of a long novel.
The haiku above, consisting of “Coughing, even” (six syllables in the original Japanese) and “alone” (three syllables in the original), has kire (break), a shift in the content and rhythm between the two phrases. In only nine syllables of haiku, kire is the key that opens the reader’s heart.
Kire makes it possible for recent contemporary haiku to express the leap in the poet’s unique viewpoint and the shift in their poetic form. Here is another example.
In the space of stillness behind the poet, what his poetic intuition caught was a forest of white thin paper. This leap in poetic intuition, from one moment to the other, lies in the shift occurring between the phrases.
Each haiku by Furusawa, Sato, and Tsubouchi consist of two short sentences in the original Japanese. Iijima used a cutting word “ya”, to signify the kire. Thus, the kire in these four haiku can be recognized grammatically. Yet, in the other haiku, the reader is expected to read carefully and thoroughly to discover the kire. Because of kire, appreciating haiku is highly intellectual work. Looking at it in another way, an excellent poet is someone who can skillfully fold the kire inside the haiku.
This essay from Japanese/English JAPANESE HAIKU 2001 (Modern Haiku Association, Tokyo, Japan, December 2000, ISBN 4-89709-336-8 C0092, 3,000 yen)