■Book Review

World Haiku 2006, No. 2 – A Review and Essay

World Haiku 2006, no. 2, Edited by Ban’ya Natsuishi, World Haiku Association, Shichigatsudo.
(For purchase of this anthology http://www.worldhaiku.net/news_files/wh2006/wh2006eng.htm)


Grant CALDWELL (Australia)


When Ban’ya Natsuishi asked me if I would write a review of World Haiku 2006 No. 2, I was already writing an article in response to his and Edvin Sugarev’s and Bin Akio’s essays in the anthology. And so this review will be an incorporation of that article and a review of the anthology as a whole.


Before I get to the body of the anthology, I must report on the impressive facts of it: 472 haiku by 158 poets from 27 countries in numerous languages apart from Japanese, almost all poems published in or translated into English; 11 haiga by 11 persons from 10 countries; 5 haiku criticisms or essays by five poets from “East and West”. The countries represented range from Nigeria to Bulgaria to Nepal to Ireland to Croatia to Sweden to Serbia and Montenegro, as well as Germany, Iceland, Denmark, Russia, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, as well as U.S.A., Macedonia, France, U.K., Portugal, Belgium, Slovenia, Romania, Greece, India and of course, Japan, with ages ranging from 81 to 29 (excluding the Junior Haiku Contest).


In the three essays, Bin Akio’s Kokkei and Humor, Edvin Sugarev’s The Bulgarian Haiku, and Ban’ya Natsuishi’s Have East and West Truly Met through Haiku? the authors’ views seem to contradict on some points but agree on others. I will attempt to address what I think are the key points of these articles, and hopefully bring them somewhat into alignment. The key points I refer to are: Akio’s reflections on the origins of haiku, Sugarev’s musings on “the Zen factor” and Natsuishi’s views on the poverty of understanding of haiku by modern haiku poets, especially the poor understanding in the west, and his ruminations on the problem of translation. I believe these areas go the heart of the problem of modern haiku, and perhaps even modern poetry.

Edvin Sugarev writes (p. 85) “…as to what haiku is I don’t believe in any definition and descriptions, nor in any prescriptions how to write haiku and what principles to be followed… because the energy and impact of haiku are intangible, slippery, and free from any rational explanations.” While I agree with a lot of what Sugarev says in his essay, this statement may explain Ban’ya Natsuishi’s criticism of much modern haiku as indeed being “slippery, and free from any rational explanations”. Natsuishi writes (p. 97) quite rightly that “…haiku cannot be free from any meaning”. I think the misconception of haiku has arisen as a result of a misunderstanding (and mistranslation) of both Zen and haiku. Most classical haiku are capable of rational analysis, and those that seem beyond explanation may be so because of poor translation, or a lack of true understanding of the essence of “seeing” that is haiku (and Zen or Daoism-Buddhism[1]). Just one example of an easily rationalised classic haiku, is the following by Issa:

insects on a branch

                            floating downriver

                            still singing

There are also many fine contemporary haiku capable of rational analysis, as evidenced in the World Haiku anthology. For example the haiku by Roberta Beary, on page 8

waiting room –

                            the ex-wife

                            looks past me

There are also many haiku in this anthology that seem to aspire to the “slippery” view of haiku. But as I have suggested this may be a fault of the translation or indeed may very much depend upon the insight of the reader. On page 28 A.A.Marcoff’s haiku seems at first glance to defy rational explanation, and yet it resonates, it captures something that may at first (or did so for me) seem to be intangible:

a blind man

                            passing a broken wall

                            at dusk

Upon closer reading we might begin to see that there are elements of sympathetic or sad irony (sabi?[2]) here, and three separate “stories”, three separate “levels”: the more individual or personal (the blind man), the general situation or setting (the broken wall), and the temporal and universal or “natural” (dusk). There are many symbolic spin-offs from these images, individually and collectively. But there is something else here, something attained by the combination of these levels, something mystical, timeless and uplifting about this apparently sad end of the day (dusk) for the blind man passing the broken wall (erosion/destruction/chaos/war) that he cannot see (but maybe he can feel it or sense it). Here is an instance of the rational explanation of the magic of the haiku, as well as the ineffable extra that the image creates, best articulated by the (perhaps over-quoted) principle of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. An interesting question might be: Was A.A. Marcoff aware of the multiplicity of meanings of the haiku when they wrote it or were they simply captivated by the image as it appeared to them? My guess would be that initially it was the image that captured them, but that they may have come to see why this was so. And so, there are two perspectives involved here: the “creative” one, which can be “blind” to the meaning of the broken wall at dusk; and the second, analytical perspective, that has time and objectivity to perceive the implications of the images. And yet, there are some readers of haiku for whom the “creative” perspective is enough, the feeling that is conveyed; but the rationale or “meaning” must still exist for this to happen.

Getting back to Sugarev and principles, perhaps the rule, if there is to be one, is that haiku is about “moments that matter”, moments that catch through symbol, metaphor or inference, more than one meaning or image, so that what at first appears to be a puzzling or overtly simple image or strange combination of images, upon closer observation opens out into multiple meanings and connections and ideas. But this and other “rules” or indications of the depth of “nature” are far better articulated (it is hardly surprising) by Basho himself. As the American poet Robert Hass says in his book The Essential Haiku (Versions of Basho, Buson and Issa), p. 294.: “Basho himself wrote no systematic treatise on poetics, and his ideas changed over time.” (Hass, p. 294), however, Hass has compiled a very useful list of remarks by Basho on poetry and poetics, drawn from various sources – Basho’s own prose and observations reported by his disciples – and various translators. Hass adds in the footnote to this list: “It’s not completely clear that he (Basho) said everything attributed to him”, but most of this list is illuminating and inspiring, and I unreservedly recommend it. Hass has entitled it Learn from the Pine, and it can be found on pages 233-238 of his book. The second “rule” in the list, that seems most appropriate here is: “Don’t follow in the footsteps of the old poets, seek what they sought.” The rest is about “what they sought”.

Edvin Sugarev quotes the first of Basho’s aphorisms (perhaps the most quoted) from Learn from the Pine in his explanation of the connection with Zen: “Haiku is not being written or created – it just is: like a flower hidden in the grass… You cannot write haiku from the viewpoint of a subject who observes his object – you have to reach beyond yourself, to leave the past and present, to be here and now, to be one. In that sense haiku is an art of meditation and in this is its deep (though often denied) connection with Zen. Basho’s words: When you depict a pine tree you have to become the pine tree … the principle of non-duality, of Self dissolving in the Universe, which is the basics of the philosophy of Zen.” (Sugarev, p.86). This is the key point in Sugarev’s article for me, this is the “selflessness” (alone-ness/all one-ness?) that Blyth perhaps misconstrued and that Natsuishi criticises on page 94. Sugarev goes on to bemoan western poetry’s  “sense of burden and limitation” of “wasted language”. Indeed I see this frustration and limitation reflected in the poverty of Western Philosophy (indeed, in its prevalent culture of materialism). Perhaps this “burden” is why so many poets worldwide are attracted to haiku. For it is not haiku as such that is the essence of haiku, but the “existential code” of Zen (Sugarev, p. 86) that is at its base. In order to truly understand haiku we need to understand what is Zen, or Daoism/Buddhism, the existential code, are; or more accurately, we need to understand what “nature” is, in its broadest sense. Natsuishi rightly points out in his essay that so many poor translations of Eastern Philosophy (and haiku), as well as poor interpretations of these translations (and even, I would say, of the original Japanese and Chinese texts), have obscured this understanding as much as illuminated it. There is a very basic distinction to be made here between the western ethos of containing and controlling and manipulating nature, and the once eastern (and many other older cultures) ethos of cooperating with, working with, flowing with nature. This is perhaps why initially haiku (or rengabefore it) required a kigo, or seasonal reference, that is, a reference to nature. But of course “nature’ is not just the natural world, we humans, even we urban humans, are part of nature, no matter how much we have bastardised it, no matter how far we have “progressed” in eliminating it. The famous American abstract expressionist painter Jackson Pollock once declared: “I don’t paint nature, I am nature”.

Without meaning to pretend I am a scholar of Daoism, I can say that I have studied many and various translated texts of Lao Tze and Chuang Tze for many years, and, at the risk of being yet another westerner attempting to explain eastern thought through his reading of translated texts, but because I feel the idea of Daoism (or for that matter Buddhism or haiku) is not exclusive to Daoism or any one culture, but is the “seeing” of the way of the world, I will make an attempt to discuss briefly what I think it is, and in doing so, hopefully approach what I feel haiku is generally about. But perhaps before I do so I should, as further “disclaimers”, quote two passages from the Dao Te Ching: firstly, the opening lines from chapter 56:

Those who know

              do not speak;

              those who speak

              do not know.

And secondly, the opening lines from chapter One:

The way that can be spoken of

              is not the constant way;

              the way that can be named

              is not the constant name.

              The nameless was the origin of heaven and earth;

              the named was the mother of the ten thousand things[3]

As I have already suggested, Zen, or Zen Buddhism, was essentially created out of the nexus of Daoism (or Taoism) and Buddhism, and it is for me the Daoist principles that can be most clearly perceived in the essence of haiku. “Basho seems to have been attracted to Chinese poetry for two main reasons. One was his interest in Taoism, which he thought might lead him away from the turmoil of everyday life and into the world of nature where he could regain his true self. He became an avid reader of Chuang Tzu[4]… The other element of Chinese poetry that appealed to Basho was Zen Buddhism.” (Ueda, p. 67). The West is hung-up or “burdened” by the need to define ONE approach, vacillating between the subjectivism of the Romantics and the objectivism of the Formalists, on and on, with the only thing changing being the names attributed to the various schools of theory and pragmatics, intellect and emotion. This, I feel, is a result of the apparent need to justify everything in scientific terms, to explain everything in isolation, to DEFINE FOR CERTAIN AND FOREVER, when we, especially as artists, know that this is not possible, which is why we are artists in the first place. Meanwhile the poets continue to experiment and evolve “unscientifically” i.e. creatively. The Dao (The Way), or Zen, recognises the “complimentary opposites” of everything, or for our purposes, the absorption of the subjective AND the objective, expressed so beautifully by Basho in his commentaries. The wisdom of the Dao came from the “elders” who learned by observing nature, long before Lao Tze and Chuang Tze began writing their interpretations and understandings of the “code”.

Bin Akio alludes to the Chinese connection in haiku: “Until the 14th century, there were only two ways to make poetry in Japan. One was to make a Chinese poem. Another was to make a Japanese poem called a waka… But haikai, which was born from waka in the medieval times, used both Chinese poetic vocabulary and vocabulary from everyday life… It (the introduction of haiku) was the start of a tide which tried to catch the truth by free expression which deviated from the external orthodox.” (Akio, p. 79)

The three main points of Ban’ya Natsuishi’s article are: a) the learning of Japanese by western haiku poets b) the confusing of Zen Buddhism and haiku, and c) the problem of translation. I think I have said enough about b), and because a) and c) are closely related I will attempt to address them together.

I agree up to a point with Natsuishi that westerners should learn Japanese if they wish to truly understand Japanese haiku. And I am full of admiration and guiltiness when I meet people like Ban’ya who have made the effort to learn my language, when I have not made a reciprocal effort. My only defence is that I was born into the dominant language of the world (if we can put the most spoken language, Chinese, to one side for a moment), and until the last five to ten years I have never had to learn another language the way so many other cultures are expected to learn English. This, I agree is a chauvinist position, but one of pragmatics too: if I were to learn Japanese, I should equally learn Australian Aboriginal (of which there are numerous separate, extant languages), Gaelic, Chinese, Spanish, German, Indonesian, Portuguese, and Russian, etcetera. And I am more than occupied with my work on poetry, haiku, novels, research, teaching, and I am continuing to learn about the English language. Perhaps when one or more of these things abates I might be able to think about learning Chinese or Japanese. Having said this, however, I feel that the problem is not with the language, but with i) the understanding of the essence of haiku (even, perhaps the essence of poetry – I don’t think Blyth or Suzuki or Barthes were/are poets), and ii) the translation of these haiku (and poetry in general). That the learning of the language is not the whole solution is evidenced by Blyth himself: he immersed himself in Japanese culture from the age of 28, learning the language, studying Zen under various masters, marrying a Japanese woman at the age of 39, teaching English in a Japanese High School, and continuing to live and study and translate and teach in Japan until his death aged 66. And yet, it appears from his attempted translation of the Basho poem quoted by Natsuishi, and some of his other translations, that his grasp of haiku and indeed of Zen was tenuous. It is difficult to understand why this should be, unless it is the “poetic ear” that is lacking, as well as a failure to truly come to terms with the essence of Zen, or Daoism. Unlike Natsuishi, I find D.T.Suzuki’s essays on Buddhism to be quite convincing and articulate, if a little complex. I also believe that the “animistic” element that Natsuishi cites as “missing” from Suzuki’s reckoning is part of the Daoist tradition and perhaps brings haiku closer to the true origin of Zen than Buddhism does. But of course all of this is a matter of interpretation of isms and codes and principles, which are anathema to what haiku and poetry are. I am reminded of the other great Daoist “parent”, Chuang Tze, who declared: “The Sages embrace all things, while men in general argue about them in order to convince each other…” It is interesting to note that Robert Hass has a long explanation of the same “dense fog” haiku that Natsuishi examines. Hass’s translation is:

Misty rain,

can’t see Fuji


which I feel also fails to “catch” the poem, although it is an improvement on Blyth’s. In the notes at the back of the book Hass goes into a long examination of the language in this haiku, at the end of which he says: “It seems likely that this aesthetic stylization (in the Japanese language) bears the traces of earlier animism, when harusame and kirishigure and yudachi were thought of as nature spirits, particular beings.” (Hass, p. 255). Makoto Ueda has also translated the poem, and included the headnote from Basho’s original. He also quotes commentary from three earlier poet/scholars from the 18th and 19th centuries, which help “explain” the poem. One of these scholars Tokai Donto quotes the 14th century scholar, Yoshida Kenko: “One is not to admire cherry blossoms only when they are in bloom, or the moon only when it is uncovered by clouds.” (Ueda, p.102). Ueda’s translation of the haiku is:

in the misty rain

                            Mount Fuji is veiled all day –

                            how intriguing!

But this too I find less than satisfying. I recommend the complete discussion of this poem by Ueda for further exploration of its true implications.

In 1996 I travelled to Medellin, Colombia for the International Poetry Festival there. I had lived in Spain and Morocco in the 70s for a short time and learnt a little Spanish, and so was able on a very rudimentary level to understand and even communicate in Spanish when I arrived, but much of the time I experienced that sense of being “deaf and dumb” whilst in a country whose language one doesn’t speak or understand. I was fortunate however that an English woman, Claire Pye, agreed to translate my poems into Spanish, and from the reactions of the locals and the comments of other bi-lingual locals and attendees, these translations must have been very good; they may have even improved on the poems! A friend and colleague of mine who I will not name had an opposite experience when a local Spanish speaker, who spoke reasonable English, translated this poet’s work from English into Spanish. My friend told me that it was apparent from the reactions and comments from Spanish speakers that the translations were far from adequate. From these experiences and other reading on the matter I have concluded some important basic principles of translation: a) that the person who is doing the translation should have a poetic “ear”, b) that this person should be a native speaker of the language that is being translated, but that they should speak the language into which it being translated at least well, if not fluently (Claire Pye spoke Spanish fluently, she taught English in a local school) c) that the translator has at least one native speaker of the “second” language to consult (Claire Pye had of course many locals to draw upon for advice about the Spanish she was using). And so, for example, to translate Basho’s haiku into German, ideally would require a native Japanese speaker with good if not fluent German, with a poetic ear, and with access to German native speakers for consultation. If this were the case, perhaps the Mt. Fuji haiku might be translated “perfectly”.

I found many fine haiku in the World Haiku Anthology No. 2, that capture what Basho, Buson and Issa and others have captured, and many have since continued to create in the essence of their poetry, in its developing, evolving form, almost always suggesting the ineffable, concise expression of existence and its connections and wonder. These haiku stimulated and inspired me, and they make the collection well worth reading, even apart from the fine essays and haiga. There are also many haiku that I found difficult to “understand” or simply too obvious in their implications. As I have suggested, perhaps the problem with many of these poems lies with their translation; or indeed, my failure to understand their cultural references and nuances. The latter is always going to be a problem in translation, but like in all literatures it will not deny the survival of the best poems, especially if enough people read them and comment upon them. I would like to quote those haiku that especially resonated with me.

Roberta Beary (p. 8). I found all of three poems interesting and evocative. All have a rare domestic nature to them, full of humorous suggestion.

waiting room

                            the ex-wife

                  looks past me

I especially like this second haiku, with its strong suggestion of human “nature”: jealousy, embarrassment, pride (?). And why are they in the “waiting room”? Is it a doctor’s? Are they both pregnant? or ill? The implications are many and intriguing, but we don’t have to know the whole story, what is interesting is the moment of exchange (or non-exchange) and its implications.

I enjoyed Johnette Downing’s three poems (p. 14), but especially:

a heart

                            carved in a tree

                            has a crack in it

The poem is obvious in its implications but the “opportunity” of irony that the poet has recognised in a natural form is delicious – the third line “leaps” into a narrative of humorous cynicism for the poet, and us.

Gilles Fabre – All three poems are good, especially the second:

This friend,

                            I thought I knew, in his car boot:

                            a hunting gun

Again, the “leap” of the third line, suggesting so starkly the disillusion, contrasting with the establishment of “This friend” of the first line, and the question: what is “in his car boot”? The implication that the friend carries the gun around in his (or her!) boot, is not only creepy but reinforces the secretiveness, his (or her) hidden nature that the poet has discovered.

I enjoyed Kaj Falkman’s poems on p. 15, especially the first one – the other two are good ideas but I feel are not quite realised.

Alexandra Ivoylova, p. 21 –


                            the dog’s bark outside

                            smells of snow

Here we have a definite kigo and the “smell” we know is not the dog’s bark – it probably sounds like it’s coming from the freshly fallen perhaps first snow but at the same time the poet can smell the snow – and so, we too, smell it and hear the dog’s “snowy” bark – we are “there” in the situation, feeling it. Perhaps the fact that I am in 35 degrees summer in Melbourne as I read it makes this resonate even more so!

Ekaterina Kunova’s three haiku (p. 27) are very good, particularly:

Sunset –

                            my grandma’s

                            cherry jam

The sunset of the life of grandma, the colour of her cherry jam we see in the sunset with her, the sabi suggested by such a reflection, the fondness and domestic warmth and family feeling between the two women is very strong – we can almost taste the jam.

Rumyana Lyakova, p. 27-

The snow quiet

                            In a deer’s footprints –


Here the quiet of the snow, that insulated sense of snow, the sabi of being alone in the snow (the silence), and the suggestion that the poet is standing still, all seen in a deer’s footprints, the sense of wonder created by the presence of a wild animal, the sense of being still and quiet so as not to disturb it, reinforced by the third line, the silence and stillness and freshness of dawn – all of this we feel in the poet, all of this is the poet at this moment: the quiet, the snow, the deer, the sunrise.

The following poems of Nikola Madzirov (p. 28), Timjana Mahecic (p. 28), Dusko Matas (p. 29) respectively, I would just like to quote, and allow you to reflect on their resonance –

Morning frost.

                            Upon the car somebody

                            has drawn a sun


Boys run after a ball

                            on the grass –

                            an old man smiling


                            Misty window pane

                            I hear them on the gutter –

                            the raindrops

Ivan Nadilo’s poem, (p. 33)-

At the cemetery

                            I’m mirrored in the shine

                            of black marble

I feel would be more effective as

At the cemetery

                            my reflection

                            in the black marble

Not just for the succinctness and exactness of the language, but the double meaning (noun and verb) of the word “reflection”, and its poignancy, rather than “mirrored”.

In Boris Nazansky’s fine poem (p.35):


                            following the snail’s tracks

                            the stars are climbing the fence

I feel, perhaps pedantically, that there are more words than is necessary, and suggest:


                            following snail tracks

                            stars climb the fence

Djudja Vukelic-Rozic’s haiku on p. 53 is a favorite of mine in the anthology,

dolls and a teddy bear

                            on the sidewalk waiting

                            for the garbage truck

The poignancy of the dolls’ and the teddy bear’s imagined sentience is most evident and sad and yet it makes us smile through our tears – here we have sabi connecting the poet and the dolls and the teddy bear, especially the latter, as the dolls are not numbered i.e. it is the bear that takes our full attention; but we then wonder: why are they being abandoned like this? Are they indeed a reflection of what has happened to their owner? And/or are they symbolic of the loss of innocence and imaginative affection in the modern world, where everything is disposable? But also, we have here the evidence of the transience or impermanence of existence, even for teddy bears (childhood?)!

Sueo Yoshida’s third poem (p. 56) is equally (and similarly) evocative:

On the sand

                            the ant-lion staring

                            at the universe

Of the junior haiku award winners, the winning, first haiku of Arisa Sakino has the strong quality of connection of reality and symbolism. For age eleven this is a very mature quality.

There are many haiku that I enjoyed that I have not quoted. I have greatly enjoyed reading this anthology and writing the review of the poems and the essays. I have learned a great deal in the challenge of doing so. I hope the readers likewise enjoy, or at least find some stimulation, in my words. It is worth repeating that it is very possible (and I sometimes sensed this in reading many of the haiku) that the translation of some of the poems in the anthology does not do them justice in English, and I apologise again for my limitation of language in this regard.


23/2/06, Melbourne, Australia



Robert Hass, The Essential Haiku (Versions of Basho, Buson and Issa), the Ecco Press, New Jersey, U.S.A., 1994.

Makoto Ueda, Basho and His Interpreters, Stanford University Press, California, U.S.A., 1991.

World Haiku 2006 No. 2, Editor: Ban’ya Natsuishi, World Haiku Association, Shichigatsudo, Saitama, Japan, 2006.

[1] It is arguable that Zen came about as a result of the combination of Daoism and Buddhism (and to a lesser extent, Confucianism) as Buddhism moved into and was absorbed by Japanese culture as Zen, from around the 12th Century.

[2] Basho mentions sabi (loneliness) as one of the key elements in haikai: “sabi is the colour of the poem”. From an English speaking perspective this is an interesting word i.e. “loneliness” – an interesting connection might be made with the principles of “alone-ness” or “detachment” of Buddhism and Daoism; and the fact that in English the word “alone” comes from the phrase “all one”.

[3] These versions are my own “translations” based upon the many translated versions I have read and studied.

[4] Note that there are various spellings of Daoism, Lao Tze and Chuang Tze, they being Anglicised versions of the Chinese.