Keiji Minato: Notes on Modern Haiku (3)

21 February 2009

Besides wordplays another repressed element in modern haiku is too much individualism or idiosyncrasy. Prescription of rather formularized nature images worked as a frame for an individual expression. Some writers broke off the boundary like young TERAYAMA Shûji (寺山修司; 1935-1983), who would be a world-famous play writer later in his life. Surprisingly, he managed to achieve theatrical quasi-self-confessions even in the limited space of a haiku:

Me tsumuri / itemo a wo subu / gogatsu no taka

Even with my eyes closed
I am reigned
by the eagle in May

Me kakushi no / haigo wo fuyu no / ono tôru

Behind a blindfolded man
an ax of the winter

Hô-igaku / Sakura / Ankoku / Chichi / Jitoku

Forensic medicine,
cherry blossoms, darkness,
father, masturbation

His first-person “I” is played out fictionally, by the third eye that watches him like the eagle in the first of the examples above. The man is “blindfolded” in the second to provide an imaginary stage for an act suggestive for a catastrophe. The last haiku just lists up five disparate things but successfully stages out a kind of Oedipal drama between son and father. Terayama was a precocious writer and abandoned haiku at the age of eighteen, although the technique of parody/pastiche he learned in haiku writing was extensively and effectively used in other genres. He remains one of the most important cases to think about the relationship between haiku and other literary genres.

Unlike Terayama YASUI Kôji (安井浩司; b.1936) has been exclusively digging his mine of haiku, accumulating works that escape easy categorization:

Tori no naibu wo / shômô shiteiru / mijikai budda

Short Buddha
consuming the inside
of a chicken

Tôi kemuri ga / shirauri daite / noboru ran

Far-away smoke
rises holding tight
a white squash

Haruwashi ya / Tsubasa no dakkyuu / suru hibiki

Eagle in spring –
the sound of
a wing disjointing

A quite peculiar merging of Zen-like irrationality and almost erotic physicality makes his haiku never-ending enigmas. “Short Buddha” in the first is exemplary: Why could Buddha who achieved enlightenment to transcend the world “short”? The phrase “consuming the inside of a chicken” poses multiple questions. The second and the third examples too confound us. It is difficult or impossible to have a fixed viewpoint to neatly package the elements in them. One time we look up at the eagle flying past high above and in the next moment hear “the sound of a wing disjointing,” which means we are very near to the eagle or even become one with it. He suggests moments when our presence merges into nature but that nature is nothing but self-accumulating differences that dissect our subjectivity into pieces.

NISHIKAWA Tetsurô (西川徹郎; b.1947), a Buddhist monk of the Jôdo-shin sect in Hokkaido, keeps writing an almost sadistically Gothic landscape in his haiku:

Shokki motte / atsumare / Nôzui no shiroi ki

Let’s get together
with the dishes –
a white encephalon tree

Fuminshô ni / ochiba ga sakana ni / natte iru

Insomnia has made
fallen leaves

Kazoku banshû / ke no haeta / manekin mo majiri

Family in late autumn –
one of its members
is a haired dummy

The images described are certainly surrealistic but also supported by a real desolate landscape of a northern rural area that forces the writer to break away from the conventional image of benign nature in mainstream haiku. The inner psyche intertwines with the landscape to make inanimate objects transformed and animated. Played out in such a scenery, even a family drama gets an eerie taste: an extreme other (“a haired dummy”) is among the members of the family, but who cares? To us the dummy seems more animated than the family.

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About Keiji Minato

Keiji Minato was born in Osaka in 1973. He has published a book of poetry, 硝子 の眼/布の皮膚 (Glass Eye / Cloth Skin) (草原詩社, 2003), and as a scholar of literatures in English has written essays, mainly about Australian literature, for national Japanese magazines like すばる (Subaru) and 英 語青 年 (Eigo Seinen). He is one of the three members of the Kyoto-based experimental poetry group, the Experimental Language Factory.

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