Thursday, November 6, 2008

Masaoka Shiki and the World When You Were Looking the Other Way

This past week at the library, I picked up and read Selected Poems by Masaoka Shiki. Shiki is one of the 4 cornerstone's of classic haiku (aka one of the 4 master poets), the others being Basho, Issa, and Buson. In the past, I've enjoyed Shiki's work in anthologies but had not run across a collection I was enticed by until this one, so I thought I'd give it a try. This collection is translated by the always fine purveyor of Eastern literature Burton Watson.

Shiki is the most recent of the big four haikuists, born in 1867 and dying in 1902. In his succinct introduction, Watson sketches out the life, the work, and its historical importance without ever deviating into the academic. As some folks may know, haiku (or hokku) was originally the first verse of the longer renga form. According to Watson, what Shiki did

"... first of all was to establish the haiku as completely separate from the renga, a poetic form fully capable of standing on its own. To emphasize this step he rejected the older term hokku, as well as haikai, another term by which the form was known in earlier times, and replaced them with the designation haiku.

It was thought that 17 syllables was to0 brief a form to be considered seriously, but Shiki maintained and went on to prove that its very brevity was its strength. Though haiku up to this time was generally thought to be the first verse of the linked renga form, of course Basho, Buson, and Issa had used it independently and helped establish its individual predominance. Shiki helped to codify its importance and almost single-handedly revived haiku, which has since become one of the world's most predominant forms. We have Shiki to thank for this reformation and the resultant burgeoning of haiku.

One of the things I found most appealing about Shiki's own work is that he, for the most part, rejected literary allusions, puns, and wordplay, as Watson points out. Some of the cultural difficulty that I experienced in the work of Basho falls away as a result and, so, in my view, the work overall connects more easily for modern, non-Japanese readers. This is not to say I like Shiki better than Basho per se, just that his work is on the whole more accessible.

Watson translates Shiki's work in three forms: haiku, tanka, and kanshi. Watson translates 144 of the over 20,000 haiku he wrote. I marked 16 down of special interest and found enough that grabbed me that I will seek out other collections (there must be others worth reading of the 19,800 plus that Watson didn't translate). 2 of the 33 tanka he translated were enjoyable and I didn't connect with any of the 4 kanshi, though they all had things to recommend them. Here's a brief selection from the 16 haiku.


A carp leaps up,
the autumn moonlight

Poppies open,
and the same day
shatter in the wind

To ears
muddied with sermons,
a cuckoo

After I squashed
the spider -
lonely night chill

For me, who go,
for you, who stay behind -
two autumns

Year-end housecleaning -
gods and buddhas
sitting out on the grass

Working All Day and into the Night to Clear Out My Haiku Box
I checked
three thousand haiku
on two persimmons

Crickets -
in the corner of the garden
where we buried the dog

They've cut down the willow -
the kingfishers
don't come anymore


Also this week, there are lots of tidbits of interest, gathered from here and there. Here's a poem from Albert Huffstickler, from somewhere that no doubt would have bemused him.

As noted recently by Ron Silliman, The Outlaw Book of American Poetry is on google books almost in its entirety. In my capacity as a standard mucky-muck at my place of employment, I have to note that a ton of google book previews seem to contain nearly the entire book, with a few pages blocked here and there. Amazing, scary, and exhilaritating all at once. One way to kick that Robitussin jones, I guess.

At The Ultra-Mundane, a gentlemen by the name of R. Alan is reading In Watermelon Sugar by Richard Brautigan, chapter by chapter. I haven't gotten used to his voice, but here it is if you'd like to give it a try.

Here's an extended take on Thomas Hardy's early novel Under the Greenwood Tree that I put together for a post at my day job for those so inclined. Regular readers of The Hut will remember I briefly mentioned when I was reading this in a previous post.

Courtesy of Poetry and Poets in Rags here is a timely posting of "Let America Be America Again" by Langston Hughes at World Changing. Powerful as well as timely.

Mary Karr's Poet's Choice column this week has a very resonant poem on dying sparrows by Brenda Hillman entitled "
Partita for Sparrows." I haven't connected as often with Karr as with her predecessors at the Poet's Choice column, but I'm warming to her and think she's found a diamond (or, at least, a shiny, tinsely thing to start a nest with) in the post-modern poetry rough with this one.

This week's sampling of poems from Lilliput Review comes from #68 (replete with the nifty title "Geomorphology for Poets" - what was I thinking, you may ask), from April 1995. Enjoy.



winter's intricate crystal calculus

Earl Grey tea. Good fire in the stove

Out-of-season fly
lights on poster of the Milky Way.
Mark Blaeuer

Tel Aviv

They are sitting next to each other
at the bus stop.
The old woman who in Germany
was 897876421
and the young girl with a blue butterfly
on her bare shoulder.

We are witnesses, my daughter and I.
Karen Alkalay-Gut

At the Hoh River

The river slides by like a column of bells.
Our marriage is now a week old.
You smile and ask me to guess
in which hand you hide the moon!
Scott King

from the mountaintop

if a monday evening
drive home from work
in traffic is no
place for a sudden
fuck you,
neither is this place.
Andrew Urbanus


----even -if all the others
are running, if you walk to heaven
----you'll still be there in time.
Harland Ristau

¶ and the homeless, the truly homeless
-are we
-who separate ourselves
-from the rest of it
-w/ walls


The new issues, #'s 165 and 166, should begin shipping in about a week. Also, a new Modest Proposal Chapbook, #19, entitled The Turning Year: Japanese Nature Poems, translated by Dennis Maloney and Hide Oshiro from 100 Poems by 100 Poets, and a companion volume to Unending Night, will be forthcoming very soon.



Charles Gramlich said...

To my chagrin, I've read almost no SHiki.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Charles, I'm going to try and hunt some more down - I'm intrigued.


Ed Baker said...

wanting to comment and finding my "self" simultaneously raking wet leaves and noticing Alan Baker's reading (for firsttime) some Gertrude Stein AND oicking uo her [ PICASSO ] and her just a day befor your post same Shiki book comes in .. so her is what Stein writes could also be said/written of Shiki:

"One whom some were certainly following was one working and certainly
was one bringing something of himself then and wasone who had been all his living had been one having something coming out of him." (pg 333, selected Writings of GS (ed Vechten, (c) 1945,1946, qne 1962)

this observation/essay re Picasso of 1912..

now, you ask, what's 'this' gotta do with Shiki?
weel that answer is almost too much "zen/love" even for me...

maybe self IS place and place is where we begin AND end?

be in "it" for the art/poetry...

so, yesterday I racked leavs in a slight rain/drizzle... in the 4 a.m. i "got" this (to work on:

raking leaves
in a mizzle
my friends the rats

good thing I wasn't leaving one of Shiki's half eaten persimmons out..

(hey, I forgot my point!

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Ah, yes, now that is the point ...

Some of the Stein on Picasso reminded me of the Cummings poem "sonnet entitled how to run the world)."

We did this in the new poetry discussion group at the library on Thursday and one of the folks said it reminded him of a series of photographs. A cubist painting is more like it and that is what I think of when I think Stein ...

What happened to Shiki? Well he took one very vivid picture at a time.