BASHO & HAIKU POETRY

bashoIntroduction

Basho (1644-93) was born near Kyoto in modest circumstances. He gave up the samurai life, and concentrated on becoming a professional poet and Zen student, slowly collecting disciples and some fame.

In 1684 Basho started his well-known journeys, an obsession that pursued him to his death. Basho's achievement was to turn a literary entertainment into a serious art form, one that quickly became a favourite among Japanese poets. Long poems (renga) would start with a striking introduction (hokku) and this introduction Basho developed into an independent poem that startled the reader into realizing the world with fresh depth and clarity.

Haiku poetry is deceptively simple: a three-line poems of 5, 7 and 5 syllables, with a break (kereji), and a season word. Diction is plain, but still exploits the allusion, symbolism, allegory, and transcendence inherent in all language. Japanese haiku tends to echo Zen Buddhism, and be densely patterned. Modern haiku can be written by anyone, but good poems need an openness to revelation and some literary discipline: even Basho agonized over his lines. Haiku aesthetics is therefore important, and raises issues central to creativity and contemporary verse.

Haiku is thriving in many countries: Japan, USA, Canada, UK, France, Germany, Brazil, Russia, Ireland and elsewhere. English verse in particular is not naturally syllabic, and contemporary haiku tends to relax the 5-7-5 and the season word requirements. In fact it has become an artform of its own, with important ramifications. Haiku poetry sees beauty as the revelation of truth no doubt with training, but intuitively and immediately : a view that was (independently) an important theme of Modernist poetry. Even Post-modernist poetry, with its collage of received media images, stresses the contemporary world, though it tends to regard beauty as cultural stereotyping.

Books on haiku poetry and Japanese literature Haiku poetry bibliographies can be found on virtual japan, haikuworld, poetrystore and insouthsea. Recommended books include: R.H. Blythe's The History of Haiku (1963-4), S.H. Gill and C. Andrew's Rediscovering Basho (1999), L. Downer's On the Narrow Road: Journey into a Lost Japan, R. Aitken's A Zen Wave: Basho's Haiku and Zen (1979), W.J. Higginson's The Haiku Handbook: How to Write, Share and Teach Haiku (1985), A Hidden Pond: Anthology of Modern Haiku (1997) and W.J. Higginson's The Haiku Seasons (1997).

Suggestion: Haiku: Poetry Ancient and Modern Edited by Jackie Hardy. Tuttle Publishing. 2002. $13.60.

Collection of haiku grouped around various themes. Introductory essay explains the basics.

Learning Japanese

Commercial sites for learning Japanese include: worldwide learn.

These free Internet sites may be useful: japanese online, thejapanese page, sabotenweb, about, learn japanese, nihongo, tumbleweed, hikyaku, and academicinfo.

Japanese-English-Japanes dictionaries are at: freedict, monash, babelfish, kanjinetworks, websaru and jekai.

Machine translation can be helpful, though you will need some grammar to correct the rendering: omnilang, free translation, google, babelfish, and worldlingo.

Some useful language exchanges: friends abroad, xlingo, mylanguage exchange, polyglot learn language, and lingozone.

Japanese Poetry


Haiku is thriving in many countries: Japan, USA, France, Germany, Russia, Ireland and elsewhere.

Haiku poetry bibliographies can be found on haikuworld and no doubt elsewhere.

Recommended books include: R.H. Blythe's The History of Haiku (1963-4), S.H. Gill and C. Andrew's Rediscovering Basho (1999), L. Downer's On the Narrow Road: Journey into a Lost Japan, R. Aitken's A Zen Wave:Basho's Haiku and Zen (1979), W.J. Higginson's The Haiku Handbook: How to Write, Share and Teach Haiku (1985), A Hidden Pond: Anthology of Modern Haiku (1997) and W.J. Higginson's The Haiku Seasons (1997).

See here for a brief history of Japanese literature, here for contemporary arts in Japan and here for an extensive list of magazines publishing haiku.

 

C. John Holcombe   |  About the Author    | ©     2007 2012 2013 2015.   Material can be freely used for non-commercial purposes if properly referenced.