Roller Coaster, a haiku sequence

Posted in Rensaku, Summer with tags on August 2, 2018 by Tito

The Kansai region of Western Japan was hit by a damaging earthquake (mag. 5.5) on 18 June, then by a monsoon-ending deluge on 5-7 July, and has been gripped by a severe heatwave ever since. 19 July saw 40 degrees C in Kyoto. The only respite in temperature was the typhoon of 28-29 July, which was cruel in its own way. I compiled a haiku sequence from recent work by 15 Hailstone poets in order to commemorate the fearsome summer we have had so far. You’ll see that haiku poets find ways to ‘coast’ between the ‘rolls’.     (SHG)

QUAKE (4)

morning birdsong
in the monsoon garden:
epicentre
right beneath my pillow!                             Hisashi

35 floors up
an earthquake rocks
and rumbles –
it clutches my heart                                    Sydney

summer earthquake –
ground spangled with glass,
sky full of stars                                           Mizuho

after the tremor
healing my unease,
the fragrant white gardenia                          Hiroko

RAINS (9)

broken muzzles
of the shrine’s stone foxes –
the rainy season returns                              Yaeno

gray rain-screen,
a fear of floods …
yet a kingfisher
blesses the pond                                        Teruko

endless rain –
in our entrance hall
a large garden spider
now resides!                                              Tito

to this land of
green ears of rice,
the Thunder God’s
long siege                                                  Hitomi

helicopter hovering
by people on a rooftop –
never-ending rain                                       Kyoko

a village
obliterated by the rains –
a cicada’s chant                                          Mayumi K.

the rain eases …
along a path between paddies
coloured umbrellas move                             Takashi

jumping into the puddle
with his tiny boots on
the wrong feet –
the rains let up                                           Hisako

monsoon away –
new sunlight on the girl
in the red coupé                                          Akira

HEAT (6)

leaving for work –
the heatwave,
no longer air at all
but wall                                                       Tito

crimson coins of blood
on the bike park floor:
the heatstruck lad
clasps his nose                                             Ursula

on the fence
two turtledoves out of breath …
sagging grasses                                           Branko

fierce sunlight –
a bitter gourd hanging down
like Godzilla’s tail ………………………………………….. Mayumi S.

the brook at my feet
murmuring away heat –
the mountain peak ahead                             Akira

the sun beat down …
but, slowly now, enjoying
the long night wine                                      Hiroko

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Persimmons – part 6

Posted in Autumn, Japanese Classic with tags , on July 14, 2018 by sosui

. Among haiku poets, both ancient and modern, I think it was Shiki who loved persimmons the most. Let me quote the following passage to prove this point. It is from his work entitled “Two Persimmons”. Shiki calls it a novel and uses the third person singular for the main character, but to me, it is a piece of haibun, in which the author describes his own experiences:

Soon his sister stood up, shaking threads from her knees. She wanted to take a tray of the remaining persimmons to her sick brother, the master of the house.
“Is that all that remains,” her brother asked her, casting a sidelong glance at the persimmons.
“Yes, this is all. You ate so many of them yesterday,” she answered. There were only two persimmons on the tray.
He was a great lover of food, and especially liked all kinds of fruit. But, above all, he loved persimmons.

. He must have decided to save the two remaining persimmons till he had finished his work as reviewer of haiku. When he had done so, he wrote the following poem:

Three thousand haiku to read —
Finishing them all, I eat
The two persimmons.

. I think Shiki is implying how hard his reviewer’s work was, and also how quickly the persimmons disappeared eating them at such a pace.

. Shiki indeed has many poems about persimmons, but the following is perhaps the most famous:

A bell rings out while
I’m eating a persimmon —
Horyuji Temple.

. Personally, I find it a bit difficult to understand. If the haiku simply describes a time sequence, then perhaps it is not such a great poem. Among scholarly commentators, there is one who says that it should be taken as a poem of greeting to Soseki, who had written a similar poem. Another points out that Shiki was so ill during his visit to Nara that he probably never actually went to the Horyuji Temple. I do not find these comments very helpful for the interpretation of the poem. For me, there must be some meaningful relationship between Shiki’s eating the persimmon and the ringing of the temple bell: otherwise, the poem falls apart. The only connection between them that I can think of is the sense of satisfaction. Shiki adored persimmons, and whenever he ate one he found pleasure; while the temple bell brought him pleasure of a different sort. I think we could say that one was a physical pleasure and the other spiritual. So I take this haiku to be an expression of both physical and spiritual satisfaction. Incidentally, the poem has a short preface saying, “I rested at a tea shop near Horyuji Temple”. In an essay elsewhere, he also comments:

For a long time persimmons have been neglected by poets. I had never thought of combining persimmons and Nara, but was overjoyed when I found this possible. It was a new combination.

I believe that this combination was in fact an old one, for Imperial Palace Persimmons have traditionally been grown in Nara.

. To the end of his life Shiki remained an admirer of persimmons, and the following poem should be used as his epitaph. It is indeed prefaced “After my death”.

Let it thus be known:
A great persimmon eater
And haiku lover.

(To be continued…)

Thinking of Angelee

Posted in News, Tribute with tags , on July 1, 2018 by Tito

For those planning to take part in next year’s Genjuan International Haibun Contest, we are very sorry to have to announce that our colleague Angelee Deodhar, one of India’s foremost haiku poets, passed away quite suddenly on June 28 in Chandigarh. She had been in recent correspondence with us, not only about the Contest and publications, but also about a planned visit to Japan next spring. Those of us who have worked with her at the Cottage of Visions are greatly saddened. She made a splendid contribution to English haibun, by editing the epic ‘Journeys’ anthology series and helping to judge the Genjuan, yet she herself always remained modest, tactful and warm. She signed off her letters, to me at least, with the phrase, ‘Love and light’ …

This graciousness will surely continue to be felt and cherished. Our thoughts are with her family and close friends at this time.

It is appropriate to share what she had apparently once referred to as her 辞世 jisei, or death verse:

water-worn boulder
so smooth now
against callused feet

RIP

Spring ending . . .

Posted in Haiga on June 28, 2018 by Gerald

click on the picture to read the poem

Haipho works for NHK Haiku Masters in Kyoto 3. ‘Maiko-haan’ team

Posted in Haipho, Spring with tags , , on June 16, 2018 by Tito

Photo by Peter MacIntosh, haiku by Tito

For the Icebox event report Click here
For the NHK report, here

New Genjuan anthology, “From the Cottage of Visions” is out!

Posted in Book, News with tags on June 3, 2018 by Tito

.. From the Cottage of Visions, a compilation of the awarded works from the Genjuan International Haibun Contest 2015-17, was published at the end of May. 112pp, A5 size, 37 haibun from around the world, some written by Japanese, judges’ comments, a potted history of Japanese haibun, 4 illus. by Buson & Taiga, ¥1,300 (U.S.$13 incl. p&p).
.. This week, we will honour our commitment to all entrants of the Contest during those three years and airmail more than 100 free copies worldwide (photo shows Officer, Eiko Mori, and assistant, Teruko Yamamoto, doing the addressing!). Entry to our Contest remains free, but we have no wealthy sponsors. So, how have we managed to do this charitable act for all these years? The answer is threefold: some judges have made occasional donations, all labour is done in a spirit of volunteerism, and we have diverted some of the profits made through sales of other Hailstone publications (including Meltdown, Persimmon and our previous Genjuan anthology 2012-14) into covering some of our printing costs. We would certainly like you to buy a copy if you can! The book can be ordered through the channels outlined near the bottom of our Publications page. 

Persimmons – part 5

Posted in Autumn, Japanese Classic with tags , on May 19, 2018 by sosui

. There are also many paintings and decorated lacquer boxes in which persimmons are depicted, most dating from the Edo period. One, for example, is a painting by Sakai Hoitsu (1761~1828), included in the series called “Flowers and Birds of the Twelve Months” (owned by the Imperial Household Agency), and which relates to the month of September. It shows red persimmons hanging from the branches and a pair of pale green white-eyes on the trunk. The contrast of colours in this painting is superb, and there is a touch of playfulness in the attitude of the little birds.

. Haiku poets of the Edo period have also left some poems about persimmons:

…………… In this old village,
…………… There is not a house without
…………… Some persimmon trees. ………… Basho

……………………………… Lord of Persimmons,
……………………………… But his tree tops are too close
……………………………… To Mt. Arashi. ………… Kyorai

………………………………………………………. A ripe persimmon —
………………………………………………………. I felt autumn sinking deep
………………………………………………………. Into my stomach. ………… Shiko

…………… Entrusted with the
…………… Imperial persimmons,
…………… A scarecrow looks proud. ………… Buson

……………………………… The top branch still has
……………………………… One sour persimmon hanging —
……………………………… I feel so attached. ………… Issa

. Basho’s poem is a beautiful description of a happy village which has enjoyed peace for many years. Considering the fact that he spent most of his life in wandering, I think Basho must have had a rather complex reaction to the scene, which we might say is mixed with envy. Kyorai’s poem concludes “The Story of Rakushisha” (House of Fallen Persimmons), which he wrote to explain why he had chosen this rather unusual name for his cottage. Apparently, his cottage had forty or fifty persimmon trees standing around it, but the keeper whom he had hired to look after it had never sent him any persimmons. So, one year, he went to see for himself, and found the trees loaded with fruit. Soon a merchant came and offered a large sum of money for the persimmons. But a night storm knocked all the persimmons down. Next morning, the merchant came and complained that in his long career as a merchant he had never had such an experience, and asked Kyorai if he would return the money. Rather unwillingly Kyorai consented. So, the above haiku is not a simple description of his cottage. The present Rakushisha Cottage is a later reconstruction. We do not know the original site, but judging from the haiku quoted above, it may have been closer to Arashiyama (“Storm Mountain”). Anyway, Kyorai expresses his fear of the storm that comes from the mountain straight down to his persimmon trees. Shiko was the leader of the group of haiku poets called Mino-ha, but his poems are said to lack depth and complexity. The poem I quoted above is, I believe, derived from a poem by Basho, but it has neither the depth nor the complexity of the model. That is why I used the word “stomach” to translate harawata. This Japanese word is normally translated as “intestines” or “guts”. I felt that Shiko is simply referring to a physical, rather than a metaphysical, phenomenon. The Imperial Palace Persimmons mentioned in Buson’s poem are the sweet persimmons I referred to in an earlier instalment. I believe birds liked them very much. So a scarecrow was entrusted with watching over them. I wonder what kind of expression the scarecrow had on his face? He must surely have looked proud, but at the same time he would have known the limit of his power. So, I take Buson’s poem to be rather humorous. I only wish Buson had left a painting of this scene, too. Issa’s poem expresses not only his sympathy for the last persimmon hanging on the top branch, but also sympathy for himself. Issa says the persimmon is sour, yet sour persimmons usually become sweet in late autumn. The sour-sweet persimmon hanging from the top branch is a symbol of his own life. Issa has many poems about persimmons, and I am tempted to quote two more.

…………… In response to a call
…………… A small boy answers “yes” from
…………… The persimmon tree.

……………………………… The mentor priest goes
……………………………… To a hill; his pupil climbs
……………………………… A persimmon tree.

. These two poems recall Issa’s childhood experiences. How skilfully he describes a child’s point of view!

(To be continued…)