Two weeks ago, we examined whether personification and other literary devices common to Western poetry were acceptable in haiku.
Now I have discovered (a mere eleven years after publication) an article that takes us far beyond that initial discussion of what might be permissible in haiku. The piece is by Haruo Shirane, Shincho professor of Japanese literature and culture at Columbia University in New York City. It was published in Modern Haiku magazine in 2000. Perhaps not entirely coincidentally, this was the year of the Matsuyama Declaration, which politely insisted that writers of haiku in languages other than Japanese explore the form without being tied down by Japanese conventions.
Dr. Shirane looks at haiku’s origins and shows us that while we sometimes slavishly adhere to what we believe are the fundamental rules of haiku, the greatest of haijin knew nothing of the supposed restrictions; therefore, we can give ourselves greater freedom to write absent those strictures.
Simultaneously, Dr. Shirane notes that we are ignoring some of haiku’s finest original principles and that our haiku suffer because of this, also. He says most of us write haiku on the horizontal axis (the present) because we are taught to write in the moment. But we ignore haiku’s vertical axis (the past) and how we can write haiku to connect with previous eras, feelings, and poems.
I find Dr. Shirane’s article breathtaking in its implications for my own haiku. He has opened so many new directions for me that I feel like I’m back at the beginning of learning to write haiku.
There would be nothing wrong with my continuing to write according to what I’ve learned previously, just as some poets continue to use the 5-7-5 syllable form because they enjoy it. And let us be clear that nothing about Dr. Shirane’s article flings wide the door to short pieces allegedly written by cats: there is haiku, and then there is parody.
But I’m a great believer in freedom, and I may slowly incorporate what I’ve learned from Dr. Shirane’s article, as I have so many other things I’ve learned about haiku over the years. I hope you will find this as fascinating as I do.