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Haiku and Tanka

  • Date Submitted: 02/27/2012 02:59 AM
  • Flesch-Kincaid Score: 40.5 
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Haiku and Tanka
I have been fascinated by the Japanese-originating short poetic forms of haiku and tanka, and related genres such as senryu, haibun, renga, etc. for more than ten years. During that time, I have had many poems published in various British and North American haiku magazines and anthologies.
For almost all that time, I have subscribed to a 'definition' of haiku that seems to be widely held in the English-speaking West, and which in Britain was codified in the British Haiku Society pamphlet, Towards a Consensus on the Nature of Haiku. Although this was later replaced by On the Nature of English Haiku (which, in fact, does not significantly change the 'definition'), ...Consensus... continued to be issued as part of the guidance for intending participants in the annual BHS James W Hackett International Haiku Award.
However, in his excellent book, Traces of Dreams: Landscape, Cultural Memory, and the Poetry of Basho (Stanford University Press, 1998), Professor Haruo Shirane clearly shows that this 'definition', while satisfactory in itself, represents only one of many haiku strands. In particular, it owes much to the campaigning of Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902), the last of the 'great four' Japanese haiku poets, and his stress upon the sketch (shasei) from direct observation. Shirane points out that Shiki was deeply influenced by Western notions of literature and poetry which, along with many other Westernizing influences, were flooding into Japan during the later 19th Century. In essence, Shiki merged many Western notions with haiku and gave the result back to the West as though it were the only genuine form. And his pronouncements were taken up and given further impetus by the early Western pioneers of English-language haiku, such as R H Blyth and Harold G Henderson.
Professor Shirane later summarised much of his argument in an article, Beyond the Haiku Moment: Basho, Buson and Modern Haiku Myths, in the North American journal, Modern Haiku, Vol XXXI...


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