Saturday, January 26, 2008

314. Fifteen Haiku

The title is not quite accurate. What we have here is a compilation of perhaps 7 senryuu (川柳) and 8 haiku (俳句). Traditionally, haiku tend to be elevated in tone, more in tune with nature and the passing seasons, whereas senryuu cast a wry and caustic look on human behaviour. Both use exactly the same 5-7-5 syllabic format. I leave it to your judgement to discern which is which.


late for work again!
hurrying, jostle a blind girl,
I am so sorry.


millions of insects,
tiny transient tourists --
Japan in summer.


two glasses of beer
and his face goes scarlet red --
school reunion.


five little girls,
each in summer kimono --
ice-cream drip, drip, drip

dark suit and black tie,
another friend passes on --
damp cold misty rain.


I realize looking at a whole row of haiku one after another gets a bit tiring. My Japanese friends tend to be rather strict in literary matters and would doubtless class all of the five above and the ten to follow as dubious senryuu. I'll tell you why below.


leaving the office
a whole day of black and white
bursts into colour


at the festival
starlight shines upon your hair
only I can see.


pale and unsmiling,
avoid like hell by daylight --
nightclub Russian girls.


here comes Jonathan!
may a truck roll over him --
please please let me drive.


a life without love
avoids all complications,
leaves you dead and dry.


Time for another break from the poems. They are only truly effective in isolation. A string of them rather dilutes their power and takes away their stand-alone presence, their "is"-ness, for want of a better term. My Japanese friends, to continue, believe that only pure poets can write haiku, which means, in effect, that the poet must be Japanese and will most certainly not write in English!! They do have a point. Modern haiku are sclerotic in the sense that they have been surrounded by an accumulation of so many subtle rules that they have become almost impossible to write by any normal non-expert Japanese, let alone a foreigner. This is a load of drivel, of course, as a glance at the great free-wheeling iconoclasts of the 17th century makes immediately apparent. Unpredictability and originality have since come to be discerned as dangerous and negative values in bureaucratic and "official" Japan with the concomitant need to ruthlessly stamp them out wherever and whenever they occur in the interests of "Wa" -- national harmony. Hence, to cut a rather interesting story short, the "taming" of haiku, along with everything and everyone else, is tied in with the rigidity and uphill struggle of the educational system to come to terms with the modern world and, not coincidentally, the reluctance (if not sheer inability) to deal with the moral burden of the wartime period. Let's leave it there. It's just a bunch of poems .... !


exploding fireworks --
love booms in our hearts again:
summer kimonos.


fanatic patriots,
all in a similar daze --
Yasukuni Shrine.


my private student
shyly exposes her breasts --
what do I do now?


she tells me her name,
says it means "the holy child" --
no, I don't think so.


sake, more sake,
in cups of fresh-cut cedar --
ah, the dancing moon!


Well, I thought we'd never get to the end but we did. No more haiku from me for a while. See if you can separate them out into senryuu and haiku. Right, so. Good luck.

Sayonara. さようなら
Safe home (well, you're probably there already).