A Hundred Gourds 2:1 December 2012
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Haiku Festival Aotearoa, 2012 – Tauranga, New Zealand

| Introduction | page 2 | page 3 | page 4 | page 5 | page 6 |

Haiku Master Class

One of the early decisions was that with two HFAs having already been held, it was time to offer something fresh in the way of workshops. We wanted the 36 delegates to go away having experienced something that might, we hoped, invigorate their writing.

The decision to invite a tutor from overseas – and to be professional about how that invitation was made – seemed obvious. We drew up a wish list of three names, emailed the first name on the list and … Jim Kacian said yes.

Jim took two master classes – one on haiku and one on haibun – that were suitable for all levels of writer and, as much as we were all in awe of him, good fun. While he was at the festival, he also filmed several poet interviews that will form part of the Video Archive at The Haiku Foundation.

Some of Jim’s wisdom from his haiku master class: [1]

The master class introduced us to the concept of ba, the cultural associations which envelop each of us and which we bring to writing our haiku.

"It is not just about right here, right now but about your whole culture and experience, and haiku does this better than anything else," Jim said.

There are three major components to any haiku, according to Jim:

Form - the most commonly recognised form in the "wider world" is 5-7-5 and/or 3 lines
Content - cherry blossoms, autumn moon, etc
Style - the most difficult component to define.

Jim pointed to the difference between "What is the moment?" and "What do I want to say?", adding that the relationships between two images within a haiku is another way of "entering the specifics of the moment".

He also discussed the notion of haiku as "fast-food for the literati". He is not against the idea of sci-fi-ku, pysch-ku and so on, believing that if people with skills get involved it could help spread the truth about haiku.

"Haiku is capable of being great literature," he said, thanking Basho for elevating the hokku (later haiku) from jokiness and the sort-of party game kind of renga that had preceded Basho’s haikai-no-renga to a poem in its own right.

"There is no one way to write haiku ... you have to ask yourself what kind of haiku is it? The first idea of form is processed and some decisions are made, such as not to write 5-7-5.

"Find what poems work in your ba ... but ‘I' have to get out of the way so the poem can reveal itself. For many the best poems they write are before they know what haiku is - you have to get past the notion of ba and be fresh again.

"It's about the freedom of having it at your disposal - your style is your style."

Jim argued that haiku are not nature poems, rather they are poems interested in the human reaction to nature - and he pointed out that in 16th century Japan people were very interested in being able to control nature's wild extremes, including tsunami, earthquakes, storms, landslides and so on.

"It's really hard to capture nature in the raw," Jim said. "And a lot of classical Japanese haiku are pretty pictures of beauty and serenity, which is another way of controlling the destructive elements. But that doesn't really apply to us - this is a different country and a different century. What's important in your life will matter more than pretty pictures from the 16th century Japanese ethos.

"We need to write to our own culture. There is a preponderance of work produced that is not addressed to our own culture, whatever that may be."

He is a champion of the form that best suits the poem. This may be anything from a single line to four lines or something that might be described as "organic".

"It's my job as the author to find the best form for the best content."

Jim noted that three-line translations did not start appearing until the early 1900s, before that haiku had been translated from a single, vertical line in Japanese to a single, horizontal line in English.

He characterised one-line haiku as "one line, one thought" but then offered the alternatives of "speedrush" - the rushing of image past the imagination where the sense catches up at the end; and "multi-stop" - which offer multiple readings by changing the place where the cut falls.

Jim demonstrated multi-stops by reading from his book of single-line haiku, where I leave off (published in English with Dutch translations in 2010), offering some four variations of this poem:

no answer when I call you autumn eve

– Jim Kacian

"All the poems that we remember are the ones that break the rules in interesting ways," he said. "Haiku can contain universes."

Jim Kacian with the first of his poems on the Haiku Pathway, one of the original 24.

Photo courtesy of Maureen Gorman.