Tundra #2: Welcome

First published in Tundra: The Journal of the Short Poem, #2, September 2001, pages 5–10. Read Bob Grumman’s review of Tundra #2 [link no longer works].

The short poem marches on. I believe that “the short poem can be larger than its mass,” as P. K. Page says in To Say the Least, her wonderfully titled 1979 anthology of Canadian short poetry. How this is possible, as P. J. Kavanagh and James Michie say in the introduction to their 1985 anthology, The Oxford Book of Short Poems, is partly because “poets, without necessarily being personal, often seem to reveal more of themselves, as writers and as individuals, and more of the flavour of their time, when they are writing briefly.” Kavanagh and Michie also declare that “it may seem odd to suggest that brevity can be a form of expansiveness, but so it seems to be; it is a return of confidence in poetry.” I also agree with William Cole in his 1967 anthology, Eight Lines and Under, that “short should not be equated with trivial,” and that “each word must pull its own load. [The poet] must keep his eye on the image, the thought, the moment of discovery.” And particularly, I agree with Robert Bly that “If poems don’t have an ‘ah’ in them, don’t read them.” I’m again delighted to welcome you to Tundra, and I trust you will find plenty of confident ahs in this second issue.

        Ted Kooser starts us off as this issue’s featured poet. I’m pleased to present Lee Gurga’s introduction and his and my selection of Kooser’s plain-speaking, people-centered, and typically brief poetry, and hope that you will be inspired to seek out more of Kooser’s startling work. The selection concludes with one previously unpublished poem, “Heron.”

        Correspondence between Cor van den Heuvel and Robert Bly follows. As you may know, van den Heuvel has edited three editions of The Haiku Anthology (1974, 1986, and 1999). Just before Doubleday published the first edition, van den Heuvel engaged in correspondence with Bly regarding the possibilities of haiku in English. These letters date from more than twenty-five years ago, but the opposing viewpoints they present still delineate the two prevailing perspectives toward English-language haiku. These perspectives are that haiku cannot be written adequately in English, and that of course it can—and not just adequately, but very well. This correspondence and the introductory and concluding material may not offer any explanations for why some people are not wired for haiku while others are, but it does identify what continues to be a problem for haiku poetry written in English and its endeavor to gain greater acceptance in the wider circle of mainstream poetry.

       Haiku is one of Tundra’s main features, and I feel it is worthwhile for readers to know the current state of haiku in Japan, even if only through occasional glimpses. Thus I’m eager to present contemporary Japanese poetry in translation. In the previous issue, Hiroaki Sato’s translations of Seisensui gave us a taste of “modern” haiku from one of the genre’s avant-garde practitioners early in the twentieth century. The present issue features the haiku of Akito Arima translated by Emiko Miyashita and Lee Gurga (see page 53). Arima is a physicist, educator, and a former president of Tokyo University. In 1998 he was elected to the upper chamber of the Japanese Parliament, and served as the Minister of Education, Science, Sports, and Culture, and as the Minister of State for Science and Technology. He is also one of Japan’s foremost haiku poets, and it is an honor to present a selection of his poems in Tundra.

        Speaking of Japanese haiku, I have been intrigued by two important declarations that have come from Japan in the last couple of years. Japan has three main haiku groups. The most conservative and smallest major group, at about 7,000 members, is the Nippon Dento Haiku Kyōkai (Traditional Haiku Association). The Haijin Kyōkai (Haiku Poets Association) is the primary and largest mainstream group, with about 11,000 members, and the Gendai Haiku Kyōkai (Modern Haiku Association) is a little more liberal, and has about 8,000 members. While the latter group represents just one perspective of Japanese haiku, the Gendai Haiku Kyōkai helped sponsor the First International Contemporary Haiku Symposium in Tokyo in July of 1999. Its delegates issued proceedings and a remarkable seven-point “manifesto” that addresses the topics of syllable count and seasonal reference in international haiku. Here is the entire declaration:



Chief delegate Ban’ya Natsuishi also stated that “brevity is [haiku’s] most important characteristic,” and that “haiku is not a magic spell grounded in a fixed formula.” He concluded that “haiku can be both the most elementary and the most sophisticated form of linguistic expression.”

        Likewise, the “Matsuyama Declaration,” issued at the Shimanamikaido International Haiku Convention in September 1999 by a consortium of leading haiku poets and scholars, mostly Japanese, also dismisses the 5-7-5 count and the strict use of season words, saying they are not applicable or necessary in languages other than Japanese. The chief delegates consisted of Akito Arima (again, whose haiku are featured in this issue of Tundra), Tōru Haga (president of Kyoto University of Art and Design), Makoto Ueda (haiku translator and professor emeritus of Stanford University, and also on Tundra’s advisory board), and poets Soh Sakon, Kaneko Tohta (president of the Modern Haiku Association), and Jean Jacques Origas. “In haiku,” they said in their declaration, “a thing of wonder is expressed as it is.” More specifically, they wrote unminced opinions regarding the problems of teikei (fixed form) and kigo (season words codified to traditional Japanese seasons), the two characteristics usually deemed most essential to haiku. They wrote that “the 5-7-5 rhythm is unique to the Japanese language, and even if other languages were to use this rhythm, it is obvious that it would not guarantee the same effect,” and, more stridently, that “forcing the fixed-form of Japanese haiku and accompanying techniques on other languages is nonsense.” Regarding season words, they concluded that although “kigo is indivisibly linked to haiku . . . when haiku spreads to the rest of the world, it is important to treat it as a short-formed poem and to take methods suitable to each language.”

        Both declarations advocate the use of “keywords” as a supplement to kigo, but Natsuishi proposes keywords more as a nonseasonal replacement for seasonal references, which I’m not sure I’m comfortable with. However, I do agree when he says that “contemporary haiku is not limited to the theme of nature as narrowly defined by ‘seasonal words’ which refer only to the ‘four seasons’ of Japan,” and that “by using ‘non-seasonal keywords,’ [haiku] has possibilities for expressing many natural phenomena outside the scope of Japan.” In contrast to Natsuishi’s position, the Matsuyama Declaration identifies a season word as a “keyword that possesses a symbolic meaning unique to that particular culture.” My feeling is that the concept of nonseasonal keywords may have limited value and will have to prove itself as a “replacement” for season words, if that is indeed its purpose. In haiku, season words are valuable anchors in time, and effectively serve as shorthand to sweep the cosmos of changing seasons into each haiku perception. Where season words need reform, I believe, is in their localization, at least in terms of international haiku. As a result, a haiku about dry grass can properly represent summer in California, and winter in New Jersey, and not be judged as unsuccessful in California simply because a saijiki (season-word almanac) relegates “dry grass” to the winter season in Japan. If any poetry should be local, and thus more intimate, surely it is haiku. The trick is be local yet also universal, a feat the best haiku poets pull off with startling regularity.

        Both Japanese declarations also say that haiku should develop its own internal form without regard to the 5-7-5 sound-symbol structure of traditional Japanese haiku. The Matsuyama Declaration, in fact, noted that teikei (the word for haiku with “form”) means to find out “the inner order of the language,” which sounds a lot like organic form rather than the external syllabic form ascribed too arbitrarily to haiku outside Japan. At their root, both declarations share the conclusion made resoundingly by the Matsuyama Declaration that “the key to Japanese haiku reform is in the universalization of haiku.” Indeed, as it said, “poets all over the world should work at finding the inner order of language and the application of keywords that possess symbolic meanings unique to their particular culture.”

        These are monumental documents regarding haiku. What they say is old news to most serious haiku poets writing in America in the last two or three decades. But it is a new development, I believe, for the Japanese to make these observations. These declarations signal a clear and prominent shift in Japanese thinking regarding the form and content of international haiku. Or rather, these documents recognize—formally, for essentially the first time—the prevailing trend of haiku as written by the majority of serious haiku poets in non-Japanese languages. As shown in the pages of Tundra and such leading American haiku journals as Modern Haiku and Frogpond, the foremost haiku poets in North America generally ignore any set external syllable count and pay only limited attention, if any, to formal seasonal references. The significance of these declarations to haiku will likely become clearer in future years. For now, though, it refreshes me to see the Japanese take a more active interest in the internationalization of their own poetic genre than it seems they have in previous years.

        Another short form of poetry from Japan is the tanka, and I’m pleased to announce that, in April of 2000, the Tanka Society of America was formed at the Global Haiku Festival at Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois. Please let me know if you would like information about joining. In September of 2000, I represented the Tanka Society of America at the Third International Tanka Convention in Vancouver, British Columbia. The sponsor of this convention, the Nihon Kajin Club (Japan Tanka Poets’ Club), with 6,000 members, is the largest tanka organization in Japan. Tanka is a neglected genre of short poetry that I’m always pleased to include in Tundra.

        This issue of Tundra naturally sports a variety of Japanese forms, including haiku, its humorous or ironic cousin senryu, as well as tanka. Other short poems abound, and I trust you’ll find something to engage you on every page (hunt for the clerihew and the cinquain). In the spirit of erudite fun, I’m pleased to offer Max Gutmann’s “There Was a Young Girl from Verona” (see page 69), a delightful limerick cycle based on the complete dramatic works of Shakespeare. Gutmann also returns with the “Last Laugh” on page 128 with double dactyls.

        Other poets whose work I’m particularly glad to offer in this issue include Francisco X. Alarcón, Joan Baranow, Art Beck (who also provides translations of the pagan Latin poet Luxorius on page 58), Robert Boldman, David Cobb, Ruth Daigon, Diane di Prima, Harvey Ellis, Jack Foley, Garry Gay, Dana Gioia, LeRoy Gorman, Jonathan Greene, Renée Gregorio, Lee Gurga, Penny Harter, H. L. Hix, Gary Hotham, Gerald Locklin, Leza Lowitz, Stefanie Marlis, Michael McClintock (who also provides a haibun on page 92), Samuel Menashe (our featured poet in the previous issue), Emiko Miyashita, Dale Pendell, Alan Pizzarelli, Steve Sanfield, Frederick Smock, Barry Spacks, Robert Spiess, Robert Sward, Mary Lou Taylor, Susan Terris, Mike Tuggle, Cor van den Heuvel, and Ruth Yarrow. And there’s much more! This issue sports nearly 150 contributors.

        Rounding out this issue is a review by Charles Rossiter of Robert Bly’s Morning Poems (see page 116). Charlie has a fine international audio poetry website at www.poetrypoetry.com. Following Charlie’s comments is an extensive review by Cor van den Heuvel of three important books on haiku (see page 118): Seeds from a Birch Tree: Writing Haiku and the Spiritual Journey by Clark Strand, and Haiku World: An International Poetry Almanac and The Haiku Seasons: Poetry of the Natural World, both by William J. Higginson. In light of the recent declarations on haiku from Japan, van den Heuvel’s comments on syllabic form and seasonal references strike me as even more compelling. Higginson’s two books are important landmarks in the promotion of seasonal awareness in international haiku. Following these book reviews is a selected list of books and journals received by Tundra.

        Thanks to those who helped in various ways with this issue: Lee Gurga, Steve Sanfield, Dana Gioia, Michael McClintock, Emiko Miyashita, Charles Rossiter, Charles Trumbull, and Cor van den Heuvel. My appreciation to Garry Gay for his cover image. And special thanks again to Hiromi Takayanagi, who is now Hiromi Welch. I also extend particular thanks to Rosemary Manning for her heaven-sent editorial assistance. This issue of Tundra would not have happened without the invaluable support of these people. This issue has not come out as quickly as I had hoped, and I thank all subscribers and contributors for your exquisite patience in awaiting its arrival (please also note Tundra’s new address mentioned below and listed on page 2). I am also grateful to the hundreds of Tundra subscribers and contributors for your financial and poetic support, not to mention your many kind letters of response. Your enthusiasm for Tundra certainly buoys up your editor, and I appreciate knowing which parts of the journal you find most—and perhaps least—enjoyable. The premier issue has already gone into a second printing for a total of more than 1,250 copies.

        I cannot end these comments without making special note of the publication of the third edition of Cor van den Heuvel’s The Haiku Anthology, released in hardback in the summer of 1999 and in paperback in the autumn of 2000. The book is a major milestone in the history of short poetry in English—not just haiku—and I encourage Tundra readers to seek out a copy.

        This issue of Tundra celebrates the publication of van den Heuvel’s anthology by featuring his correspondence with Robert Bly, and by including work from many poets whose haiku appear in the anthology. I am again glad to welcome you to the pages of Tundra, which continues to celebrate short poetry—and not, as one wag chided me, just short poets. Being an equal-opportunity editor, I welcome submissions of short poetry from all poets without regard to physical stature.