Vol 11 No 4
The Shirane Tapes
Season Words and Cutting Words
DC: In general there is no great enthusiasm for season words in Britain.
ML: No, I don’t think anybody uses them consciously.
DC: It’s a bonus. People might have a strong desire to have seasonal feeling, but in a rather vague way, not in a clear symbolic way.
HS: What do you think the percentage is of English haiku that have what you might call a season word? I made a rough guess so I want to see what you think.
ML: To think about my own magazine would be the easiest way of doing it. I organise it loosely by the seasons and I would think about 65-70% have some kind of seasonal feel.
HS: You can identify the season?
ML: Yeah, about two-thirds, let’s say. Not necessarily with a clear seasonal identification, then you’re down to about 50%, but some kind of … if you’re looking for a season you can find one.
DC: The effect is much more muted than that achieved by kigo in the Japanese. I’m assuming none of us can really appreciate what it releases in a Japanese, but we are told the effect of kigo conjures up all sorts of associations.
HS: You have an English saijiki?
KJC: Yeah, well, Higginson’s Haiku World. I have that and often-times I refer to it and I do have a sense of the season virtually all the time but I don’t know how many people have recognised this in the things that I’ve sent in. Nobody much discusses it with anybody else. We really don’t know what percentage of people are doing it consciously or not.
HS: Coming from Japanese haiku to English haiku, that’s the first thing I noticed, that they had not included the seasons as part of their definition. The HSA kept on coming out with these definitions - they did always include nature - but I don’t think there was anything about a cutting word, either. So the two formal characteristics besides length were not included. Instead of the seasonal word, they had, in big letters, NATURE. But I think that was fine. It would be impossible to have English haiku try to function like Japanese haiku. Nature is not encoded in English the way it is in Japanese.
ML: In Japan you’re talking about 1,000 years of history.
HS: But if you don’t have the seasonal word, then - again, this is from a Japanese perspective - it looks like a large percentage of English haiku are actually senryu. Again, that’s not a bad thing.
DC: I think kireji is the thing that’s perhaps more important for us. Because we’re trying to get away from this idea that it’s a poem in three lines to it’s a poem in two parts, two parts that are unequal in their syllable length but somehow of equal stature, equal partners.
HS: I’ve said that the cutting word definitely transfers.
DC: Yes, there’s a hiatus in the delivery.
HS: If there was a word that you had to throw in each time as is usually the case in the Japanese haiku, it’d be hopeless, but in English you can achieve the hiatus without a cutting word per se.
ML: It is noticeable that you do see a fair number of haiku printed in the magazines that read more or less like a run-on sentence, without any break, and sometimes that works but generally it’s a weakness in the poem. You are looking for some kind of opposition.
HS: The good English haiku poets just instinctively have always used a gap in some way, and there could be more than one.
ML: What’s interesting is that that’s partly not derived from Japanese, it’s a convergent evolution. Some people will be consciously imitating the kireji, others will be just looking for what’s the best way I can express this experience in English and have come up with the equivalent of a kireji.
HS: Another thing is that in English the spatial configuration is much more important. In other words, in a Japanese haiku or tanka, when you write it it’s just a single line. You could break it up, but always it’s a single line. That is why Hiroaki Sato argues that you have to translate everything in one line. He has a point in that he is trying to preserve the Japanese. But the reason it doesn’t usually work in English is because in English you have to work with the lines and the space on the page.
FS: It can work in English, actually. Quite a few people do write in one line.
HS: Yes, but it’s the minority. If everyone was trying to write that way
ML: It needs the element of surprise, that you don’t normally see it.
DC: We have enough problems trying to sell three lines as a poem.
KJC: I think Sato’s a good translator.
HS: So you think those one-liners work?
KJC: I don’t know that it’s that good an idea for English poets to always write in one line but I think on certain occasions it works well. There’s one guy in England, Stuart Quine, who’s writing mostly now in one line.
HS: That’s one line without any breaks?
KJC: Sometimes it’s in one line but with the break.
HS: Yeah, but if he has a space in there that’s not really one line.
KJC: If you break it up you can take away some of the potential for multiple readings. If you leave it all as one you can create an effect where it’s ambiguous, there’s no punctuation, there’s no obvious kireji, and you can actually get several readings.
HS: You’re running from one semantic unit right into another, right?
KJC: Fred [Schofield] wrote: yoga breathing the wind outside
You could read this as: yoga breathing / the wind outside
or yoga / breathing the wind outside
or yoga / breathing the wind / outside
Do you see what I mean? It’s a possibility but only in specific poems. It does have potential.
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